Get used to registration

Glenn Reynolds takes on registration.

A few counter points:

  1. People register for news sites. All of the Belo and Tribune Co. papers that have registration are getting traffic numbers as good or better than they did before registration.
  2. Around two percent of people registering for (we initiated registration Dec. 1) have used bogus e-mail addresses. Most people are truthful when filling out registration forms.
  3. Most people answer all of the questions on the registration form. Belo’s research showed that forms that ask all of the questions a reasonable publisher might want answered are not a barriers to registration.
  4. The reason a local newspaper can get away with registration is local newspapers, in today’s non-competitive metro markets, provide a unique product. The markets for national and international news and commentary are flooded, but each local market usually has only one major news source (the disclaimer being that teevee news stations usually do a piss-poor job of covering their regions). That means you either register to get the local news, or you don’t get the local news, at least online.

Glenn writes:

The Web’s a big place, and I can usually do that. But the sheer stupidity of these schemes irritates me. What are these people thinking? I think that they’re thinking like local-monopoly newspaperists, that’s what. And that won’t work on the Web.

Harsh language, but obviously, I disagree. And I would challenge Glenn to say why it won’t work. Where is he going to get his local news if not from his local newspaper or his local news web site?

On that last point above, let me add, in answer to another one of Glenn’s assertions — getting an extra 2,000 hits from an Instapundit link is a lot of fun for a news site, but it doesn’t generate much revenue. Where local news sites can potentially make money is by leveraging their relationship with loyal, repeat users, the kind of users who are going to register, not one-time, “gee that’s an interesting link” readers. There just isn’t enough revenue in banner advertising, pop-ups or no pop-ups, to rely on heavy traffic alone.

There are lots of potential revenue streams for newspapers online, but it’s foolhardy to think online news will survive long-term relying on only one or two revenue-generating tactics. The progressive, successful online news source must leverage banner ads, creative use of print advertising, clever classified strategies, special interest sites, ecommerce and registration, where registration is used to target banners and opt-in e-mail.

And let me stress: OPT-IN. It’s not spam. It’s an e-mail program compelling enough to attract people to it, because they’re going to hear about products and services of interest, and get great discounts. Of course, news sites that violate a customers’ trust and privacy are going to find themselves with a lot of angry users and a bad reputation, so the motivation is strong for web sites to obey opt-in policies and opt-out promises.

Of course, as a blogger I realize site registration is decidedly not a good thing. Who wants to register for dozens of sites? Who wants to refer readers to sites behind registration walls. It destroys, as Glenn puts it, the transparency of web surfing. But as a guy who makes his living in the online-news game, I realize this is just something I’ve got to put up with. Online news is not mature enough as an industry to turn its back on any revenue opportunity. If you want online news, you’re going to have to put up with news sites trying things like registration in the hopes of generating the kind of revenue necessary to guarantee survival.

I don’t know what Glenn doesn’t like about‘s registration process. It’s pretty standard stuff … asks all the appropriate questions, explains how the process works, and then works as it should the first time around. The only thing I didn’t like is the “opt-out” question, which I think is deceiving. Where most sites ask an opt-in question (“Do you want to receive …”), says, “Please don’t share my information … ” and you must click the box. If you’re not paying close enough attention, you could think you’re opting-out by not clicking the box (the converse practice of making you uncheck an opt-in question is also deceiving, but not as bad, IMHO, because it’s often enough used that users won’t be too surprised or mislead by it). Also, isn’t maintaining control of user data — if you don’t opt-out, can sell your information to third parties. As a consumer, I hate that. If I were a Hartford resident, I wouldn’t mind signing up for a target e-mail e-commerce newsletter, but I don’t want my private data, especially my e-mail address, to go to any company I don’t already have a relationship with.

But maybe that’s just me.

At any rate, face it folks. This train has left the station. By the end of 2004, almost every daily newspaper web site in the nation is going to require some form of registration. It’s inevitable and it’s necessary.

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