News site in upstate New York has uniquely awful approach to its website

A newspaper in upstate New York has an interesting approach to trying to get readers to pay for online articles.

As reported by Xeni Jardin on Boing Boing, the North County Gazette’s website operates on an honor system, giving readers one free article before they must pay for an online subscription.

“Please don’t abuse the privilege,” a message clipped from the gazette’s website asks. “We provide a service to you, we deserve to be paid for it” (sic).

OK. That’s pretty direct language, but I’ll take it. I live in a world where phrases like “monetizing our efforts” is preferred by management types over the simpler and more honest “making money from our business.”

However, the site goes over the top with the next screenshot posted to Boing Boing.

screen-shot-2010-10-25-at-11.41_2420.jpg

I should note that I had to borrow this screenshot from the Boing Boing post because whenever I try to load the North County Gazette’s website through my Bresnan connection at home, all I get is this:

forbidden.png

According to one of the commenters under Jardin’s post, the operators of the Gazette site posted a message on Oct. 25 saying:

A subscription is required at North Country Gazette. We allow only one free read per visitor. If you abuse the privilege, your access will be denied and you will receive a forbidden notice. Subscription rates are $24.95 for six months or $39.95 per year. To sign up, see the ad to the right on this page.

I don’t claim to know anything about their software or server setup, but if the site is already blocking me, a user who has never been to the site before, it seems like it’s not working.

I see what they’re trying to do, but demanding money from anyone who visits your website more than once and threatening to gather IP addresses and get attorneys involved is not good business. It’s like standing on a street corner holding up a copy of the newspaper for all to see and then, when someone looks at it more than once, you run up to them, take their name and demand money from them unless the person pays you. For bonus points, you call the person a thief if they balk.

Newspapers have not, historically, done a great job charging for their content online. There are some out there who say that genie can’t be put back in the bottle. There are others who, every day, are studying how to do that — including some in the upper echelon of the Chronicle’s parent company.

Newspapers are in a precarious situation, though. Heavy-handed policies like this one are a quick path to losing readers. The news we create has value, but calling people thieves for reading something we put on the open Web and threatening people with legal action is a sure way to torpedo your website.

Of course, maybe that’s just what the North County Gazette wants. Frankly, I think it would have been easier for them just to delete their site off the server.