Revisiting NewzJunky — still leading Watertown, but gap narrows

Remember NewzJunky?  Previously, we noted (here and here) how the start-up, one-man site was beating the in traffic — an unusual phenomena in the world of local online news.

Well, both Compete and Quantcast show NJ still winning the audience war, but the gap is closing since WDT dropped its pay wall.

Editor and Publisher picked up on the issue last month, but ironically put  the story behind a pay wall — it’s broken free of its chains and is available here.

Jennifer Saba did a good job of covering various angles related to the free vs. paid debate.

Recently, I came across some data — which I can’t find now (wish I’d used like I should have) — that showed how US papers have failed to raise circulation prices, as compared to many European newspaper companies, which both charge more for papers and have higher household penetration rates.   The data suggests that actually, people will pay for content.  However, it also suggests that newspapers let that genie out of the bottle long before the Web came along.  By not adjusting subscription fees to keep pace with inflation, newspapers have educated that audience that its content is not all that valuable.

If anybody can help me find that data again, that would be lovely.

But even so, we’re still only talking about print subscription fees.  There is still no evidence, either in the US or elsewhere, that people will pay for general news content online. is a warning shot for all newspaper publishers

In writing about NewzJunky the other day, I think I buried the lede.

It’s only deep into the post that I get to the point that has trounced, both in audience and volume of advertising (I have no idea what the actual revenue is) the local newspaper site.

That’s no small feat. I don’t know of any comparable event in online media.

I’m not sure that point has sunk in for many people.

If any readers know about another local newspaper getting beat by a direct local competitor, I would like to know about it.

As Jack Lail points out in the comments to the previous post, this is more than a pay-vs.-free story. It’s much more than that.

  • It demonstrates what a one-man operation, or small-staff in a small market, can do. A small staff is more nimble and usually comprised of people with an ownership stake in the venture (talk about motivation!).
  • It shows that you don’t need a big news staff to win the local market online. Many journalists take too much comfort in the notion that, “we have a big staff, so we have an advantage.” Have you seen the news about layoffs recently — a big staff in the future is by no means guaranteed. The other side, of course, is that a small, nimble, hard working staff can beat a bigger, more institutional, bureaucratic staff.
  • It shows that traditional local advertisers will defect to viable local online competitors, and it shows there is a greater hunger for local advertisers to reach a local audience than many local sales staffs can admit. I’ve heard from many small publishers who say, “Our advertisers are not yet interested in online.” Bunk.
  • It shows that users will flock to a site where they can make their own local news contributions, and they value the contributions of other users.
  • It challenges traditional notions about design and usability — what matters is content, both in width (not necessarily depth, which is not the competitive advantage many editors assume it is) and frequency.
  • There are a lot of people in our communities who hate our guts — read some of the comments on the previous post … they will sound strangely familiar to people who have been in the business a while. Give those people an under-dog outlet to rally around, and they might just become the instigators of an inflection point.
  • It demonstrates perfectly how disruption works — delivering a product that is just good enough to take customers away from incumbent players, and that disruption can come in many forms.

While in the vs. race, the newspaper’s former pay wall may have been a huge help to NewzJunky winning the race (for now — the race, of course, is not over), but publishers should not take too much comfort in the fact that they offer their content for free. There is an element of the NewzJunky story that demonstrates that any is susceptible to disruptive competition.

On the other hand — this is just one event. Currently, I’m reading Fooled by Randomness. The lesson of that book is just about any outcome in inevitable. Warren Buffet, the guy who gets all of his trades right, is inevitable, given the millions of traders who have tried, and it is probably inevitable that at least one local start-up will beat an incumbent media leader.

Still, I’m not sure newspapers can afford to take too much comfort in the vagaries of randomness.

This is a much bigger story than just a couple of blog posts. Is the sort of thing the trade press should examine more fully. Let’s see if they do.

UPDATE: I stumbled across Quantcast months and months ago, and then lost the link and couldn’t remember the name of the site … thanks to a friend, I just found it again. Relevance here, some confirming evidence that is indeed trouncing  Again, NewzJunky’s audience is twice the size of the Daily Times. Amazing.