Sentinel Locks Down Web Content as Circulation Sharply Declines

Keene SentinelIn an apparent attempt to make themselves even less relevant in the 21st century, and like so many other newspaper websites, the Keene Sentinel is clamping down even further on their content.  Managing Editor Paul Miller wrote a recent piece explaining the changes that went live on their website this week, which include limiting non-subscribers to only viewing ten articles per month.  All this as their paid circulation rate has dropped more than 26% in the last five years.

It’s another move in a long series of desperate measures to extend the life of the 200+ year old paper.  Several years ago, the Sentinel cut costs by reducing the width of the paper as well as reducing the total page count.  They also raised prices to $0.75 daily and $1.75 Sundays.  Potential buyers were being asked to pay more for a noticeably thinner paper.  Guess what happened?

According to their certifier, the Alliance for Audited Media (aka the Audit Bureau of Circulations), the Sentinel’s paid daily average circulation numbers are seriously down in just the last five years.  As of March 2013 their average paid circulation was 8,874.  That’s down more than 26% from just five years ago in 2008 when they had 12,119.  In 2003 they had 13,998 and in 1993 the total was 15,704.  That means the paid circulation today is down 36% compared to ten years ago and down 43% to compared to twenty years ago.  Ouch.

Put another way, in the ten years from 1993 to 2003, paid circulation rate dropped about 11%.  In the next five years, to 2008, it dropped almost 14%.  Finally, in five more years to 2013 it dropped nearly 27% – nearly DOUBLING the loss of the ’03-’08 timeframe!   That huge loss happened after they chopped the paper size down and as more options for news opened up due to the proliferation of smartphones and tablets and as their older-age subscriber base continue to die off.  With under 200 digital subscribers as of March 2013, it’s clear that their digital component is not coming close to making up the difference.  The paper’s answer to this quandary is to lock their content down further?

Originally the digital component of their paper was available for free, then they decided to lock down most articles after one week of their publishing date.  Now they are restricting their content even further to a measly ten articles per month.  The Sentinel is banking on the idea that their reporting is so good that people will be willing to pay $0.75 to get one day’s access to their online stories, or shell out $100 per year for online access.  Will their gamble pay off?

It seems counterproductive to prevent people from accessing content that will only further expose the paper’s advertisers, especially their new e-edition, which supposedly replicates their print edition in digital form.  Of course, I have no way to find out since they have completely locked down the e-edition.  So despite it being a major feature of their updated website, it cannot be accessed by anyone except subscribers.  I wonder, how do their advertisers feel about the fact that most people can’t see their ads online?

Many Keene-area inhabitants have a history of calling the paper “The Slantinel” due to its pro-state positioning editorially.  The paper is notorious for doing nothing at all to hold local politicians and bureaucrats accountable for their actions and instead upholding the good-old-boys network.  You won’t see articles like this recent one here at Free Keene that uncovered massive malfeasance on the part of city manager John Maclean and the Keene police department.  Perhaps the Sentinel could maintain relevance to the market with real hard-hitting reporting, but they never venture into that territory.

The paper is currently in its 215th year and when I visited their newsroom a couple of years ago, I was surprised at how many staff members were present.  The paper appears to be healthy from the appearance of their office, but the numbers tell a different story.  How many more years does the oldest newspaper in New Hampshire have left?

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