Chewing over the charge
What can you buy for $1.60 these days? Not much is the short answer. Certainly not a loaf of bread, bottle of milk or cup of coffee. Maybe a packet of chewing gum, if you’re lucky. So it was with some dismay that Mahurangi Matters started receiving complaints when our January 31 issue went online with a new cover charge of $1.60 (or $1.14 for a year’s subscription). This charge is for one week only and subscribers get an email notification each time a new paper is uploaded. After seven days, the paper is free for everyone to read as it always has been.
People wrote to express their anger and frustration about the charge. Some even came into the office to pick up a free copy rather than pay the $1.60. One correspondent predicted that this might be the beginning of the end. That readership would tumble and advertisers would abandon the paper in droves!
So perhaps we need to be clear here – this 56-page paper is written, designed, printed and delivered to your letterbox or local dairy for free because local businesses and organisations support it by advertising on these pages. If they stopped advertising, this paper would cease to exist. You would have to rely entirely on word-of-mouth or social media to promote your events and fundraisers, keep in touch with local sports news, provide a platform to express your views, and to know what was happening in Council and your own communities. There would be no reporters asking “please explain” of politicians or bureaucrats, no-one taking notes at Local Board and community meetings, or turning up to open days to take photos and report on the event.
Relying solely on advertising to fund newspapers worked when we had the monopoly on classifieds and other reliable advertising streams, but the Zuckerbergs of this world have well and truly smashed this model to pieces.
Papers everywhere are closing down or bastardising their products by running advertorial to make ends meet.
This paper employs trained journalists who are professional writers and interviewers, who often work at night and on weekends to cover the news for you. They work for a fraction of what a similarly experienced PR person is on, but they do it because they believe well-produced local papers still have an important role to play in our democracy.
Introducing this nominal charge for the online paper is one way to continue to print the paper without hitting local businesses with rate increases. This is something we are particularly conscious of after two years of Covid. Some businesses are struggling to pay their rent; the last thing they need is an advertising increase. So, we sincerely hope your local paper is worth at least the same as a packet of chewing gum.