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The $100.00 mistake: Why the Star Tribune is WAY overvaluing its content and audience

The Star Tribune wants you to fork over $100.00 per year to read its content digitally.

The Star Tribune has long been a one-man show when it comes to dominating the eyeballs with online news consumption here in Minnesota. But I think the state’s largest newspaper really, really overestimated the value of its content by announcing this week that non print subscribers like me will have to pay $1.99 per week to read its content on our iPad or iPhone. (If you already get the printed newspaper more than 2 days a week, you get this service for free.)

Considering that a TON of the Star Tribune’s online content is syndicated from the Associated Press and other outlets and can be found elsewhere for free, that means what I’m really paying for is the Star Tribune’s unique/original content.

Newspaper content has basically been free to view online since the Internet began. So it’s a massive jump to expect users to pay $100 or more a year to consume content that’s been free for decades. (Note to the Star Tribune: People like Free. We get used to Free.)

And with all due respect to the talented folks at the paper, I don’t find their news coverage/columns/Op-Eds so astounding, unique and amazing that I should have to pay for it directly. It would be one thing if the Strib wanted to offer the $1.99 price for App users who want an “ad free” experience, but I don’t think that’s the case. The Strib will still make a killing integrating online advertising into its Mobile apps – as they should.

The reason the Star Tribune has all the eyeballs, which in turn draws all the advertising revenue, is that for decades they’ve had the state’s best-run, best-looking and most reliable online news site. For free.

If another newspaper like the Pioneer Press or even a local TV or radio station (MPR?) can make a serious push to revamp its online web site/mobile apps and push out enough syndicated content to go with its original content/voices, the Star Tribune will be in serious trouble.

Personally, I’ll be spending a lot more time on the Pioneer Press site and mobile apps. I’ll also be using the direct AP apps and other news sources such as Google Reader that get me the stories I want for free.

Nobody asked me, but I think that in 2011 the way a newspaper stays relevant and important is NOT by syndicating tons of free content and combining that with typical meat and potatoes reporting and stories. Rather, I think the newspaper needs to get hyper – hyper local, hyper aggressive/investigative, hyper opinionated – in order to stand out with readers.

The main reason I read the Pioneer Press is for Tom Powers and Charley Walters’ columns. I already know all the sports stories/game stories/roundups by the time they appear in the ink newspaper delivered to my front door. What I want from my newspaper is the type of content/voice/writing that I can’t get just anywhere.

I like some of the Star Tribune’s columnists for this very reason. But it’s not enough to get me to pay $100 a year.

What do you think? Will the Star Tribune’s upcharge be a huge success? Or will it send readers scattering across cyberspace in search of cheaper or free content?

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