The Providence Journal's long-anticipated paywall finally arrives tomorrow.
The news has brought plenty of carping about the digital product it will front: an interactive pdf of the print newspaper, available in a free trial for the past few months, that seems out of step with the iPad age. But that critique, if valid, largely misses the point. The paywall is not about generating revenue from the web site - that's a near impossibility, at least at the moment. It's about shoring up the print product: pushing readers back to the far more profitable paper-and-ink version.
So if you care about the near- to medium-term future of the Journal (long-term, a better web site is essential), the number to watch after the paywall goes into effect is not the web traffic number, but the print circulation number. Can the ProJo stop the bleeding here? Even add some readers?
Here's the problem: the print product has grown thinner, and dryer, in recent years, making it a challenge to hold onto readers.
Indeed, if the Journal is to succeed in the Digital Age, it's got to answer a call as old as the typewriter: it's got to be a compelling read.