Democrat-Gazette: ‘Only Build What You Can Sell’

Conan Gallaty, the online director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, talking to American Journalism Review:

“For a lot of papers, it’s not if, but when,” says Conan Gallaty, online director of the Democrat-Gazette. Gallaty readily acknowledges that the thought of a paywall — and the virtually guaranteed drop in pageviews once it goes up — “gives people in my position heartburn.” He argues that although millions of hits on a free site may make reporters and editors feel good, lots of those hits bring very little money in the door. “Our motto is, ‘only build what you could sell.’”

Not bad thinking for sure. Still, cue the standard arguments heard for years that general circulation newspapers like the DG face an uphill battle. Newspaper/online pundit Alan Mutter tells AJR he remains skeptical of paywalls, because so much of that general daily news is available for free in lots of other places online, including TV sites and blogs. Others say paywalls are old news, and the “freemium” or “metered” access models are more viable.

But DG Publisher Walter Hussman continues to be unabashed in his protection of the print edition, which he says still accounts for nearly 90 percent of the paper’s revenue. The whole AJR piece, available here, is worth a read, as it looks at other online news models, including that of the now locked-down Dallas Morning News, the soon-to-be-metered New York Times and others.

But first, a couple of other items of local interest in the piece: Gallaty notes that Arkansas Online had 77 million pageviews last year, and online revenue grow 17.7 percent over 2009.