The Sacramento Press and The Sacramento Bee co-sponsored a panel discussion titled "Paying for Content" on June 22.
The third floor of The Bee housed 37 people who gathered to listen to panelists discuss paywalls, online revenue and the relationship between consumer and organization.
Independent journalist JT Long moderated.
The panelists were Tim Foster, editor of Midtown Monthly; Michael Sanford, KVIE’s vice president for content creation; Geoff Samek, co-founder of The Sacramento Press; Tom Negrete, Bee managing editor for the online edition and production; Ron Trujillo, editor of The Sacramento Business Journal; and Mike O’Brien, co-publisher and owner of Sacramento Magazines Corporation.
The panel started with panelists introductions. Each discussed their website and explained how it makes money.
Foster said Midtown Monthly receives revenue from advertising. Sanford said KVIE relies on membership contributions. The Sacramento Press has four forms of revenue, according to Samek: display advertising, social media consulting, events and sponsorship, and digital advertising website Sacramento Local Online Ad Network (SLOAN). The Bee’s website accounts for 15 percent of its revenue, Negrete said, mostly through display advertising.
Trujillo showed where advertising is placed on the Journal’s website.
"Where we make our money in the newsroom is exclusive subscriber content," he said.
O’Brien said his magazine has 25,000 monthly subscribers and sells about 7,500 copies at newsstands monthly. The corporation publishes both Sacramento Magazine and Our Wedding Magazine.
"We’ll extend our core niche in our print product onto the Web," O’Brien said.
Long asked the panel to attempt to predict how their sources of revenue will change in the future.
"We’ve gone from analog dollars to digital dimes," O’Brien said. "The big change that we see is the tablets and mobile applications. With the iPhone application, people are paying for content and I know that’ll be a key issue for all of us. (Sacramento Magazine) will have our mobile application soon."
Users are in control now and have more choices than ever, Negrete said.
"Also, everybody can be a publisher now," he said. "Our marketing research department is a department with few people, and that should probably grow because that information is going to become crucial."
The topic moved into content when Long asked if the panel used freelance or staff writers, and how subjective the stories are.
"We are almost 100 percent freelanced," Foster said. "And I do worry someone is going to come to me and they’re going to want to write about something that is not completely subjective objective. As far as the advertising driving the content, I have to rely on my own ethical rules, and so far I think we’ve done pretty good about that."
Samek said transparency helps balance bias in articles for his website.
"Citizen journalism is at the core of what we do," Samek said "For us, we see it as a mix of us and the community of Sacramento as the region’s storytellers. Now when it comes to objectivity, it’s a tricky thing. It’s something we can’t have in the same way. You’ll see transparency as a crucial thing in the future."
KVIE stories and programs are submitted by producers, Sanford said.
"(Our programs) met our editorial standards and were objective," he said.
Audience members then asked questions and offered suggestions.
Questions were directed toward the entire panel and occasionally a specific person.
"How does the legacy of (SacPress) play into how aggressively you go out to new types of revenue?" Cody Kitaura of Sacramento asked. "Are you concerned about SacPress being a consulting business rather than a place they go for news?"
"It comes down to what can we do well, and we try to do that," Samek said. "I don’t think that takes away from the SacPress and the branding of it. Why wouldn’t we just start a business that’s social media consulting? It loops back around to the fact that we became good at consulting because we ran a newsroom."
Sue Wilson of Amador County asked the panelists for their opinions on content sharing.
"I’m wondering what kind of interest there is in terms of someone producing for various local papers and for you guys on multiple platforms," she said. "Is there that interest or do you want that kind of cross pollination among your newsrooms?"
"There’s many city magazines in California," O’Brien said. "And all of us, generalizing, have done a story on escaping to Carmel. Why is it that we don’t collaborate with others?
“Two answers: one is that we want our own spin. We want to deliver the sensibilities of Sacramento whatever that may be. And second is these publications tend to be entrepreneurial and want to do it their own way."
Trujillo asked how the shared content revenue could be divided.
"I think that cooperation is crucial, and the fact that Sacramento Press is here at The Sacramento Bee — instead this is a step in the right direction," Samek said. "Even if you wanted to compete, local media is facing so much pressure.
“The pie is shrinking. Cooperation is very crucial in this environment. Everybody knows what they do best and overlap isn’t that bad."
The discussion ended with discussing whether or not the publications intended on using a paywall.
Trujillo said The Business Journal has a hybrid of a paywall. The Journal’s website has free online content, but printed content is viewable only by subscribers. Non-subscribers must wait four weeks to read printed content on the website.
Other panelists said no.
We need the traffic and that just would not work, O’Brien said.
“KVIE is focused on being the premiere storyteller about our region,” Sanford said in an e-mail Wednesday. “It’s important to us that we share this content with as wide an audience as possible – not just on television, but through our websites and social networking sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
“Making our content available to everyone in our community regardless of their ability to pay is central to our mission and we have no plans to charge for online content.”
"I don’t think a paywall is the answer for us right now," Negrete said.
The discussion was recorded by Access Sacramento. The air date has yet to be determined.
1) The Sacramento Bee hosted the panel on the third floor of its headquarters.
2) Panelists (L to R) Foster, Sanford and Samek.
3) Panelists (L to R) Negrete, Trujillo and O’Brien.
4) Panelists (L to R) Negrete and Trujillo.
Photos by Colleen Belcher.
Agnus-Dei Farrant is an intern for The Sacramento Press.