Friday, June 27, 2014

Paywalls and Durham Bulls Fans

How much baseball information should we get for free?

That’s the question that comes to mind as the Herald-Sun went behind a paywall and Durham Bulls fans who don’t subscribe to the Herald-Sun lost what was essentially our only source of independent reportage.

Over the years that I’ve been doing this blog I have routinely linked to newspaper accounts of the games and other interesting (if not always relevant) baseball news. In practice that has meant primarily the Herald-Sun and, for a couple of years, Durham’s Independent Weekly. On rare occasions Raleigh’s News & Observer will have a reporter on the scene, but reportage on the Bulls outside of the Herald-Sun is cut and pasted from the Bulls’ press release. And that’s what the Herald-Sun does when the Bulls are on the road. To be fair, that’s also what the home town papers of all the Triple A teams seem to do. Some home town papers do considerably less than the Herald-Sun even when the teams are home.

This year, as far as I can tell, the only regular home game reportage has been the Herald-Sun. So the question is, for me, what is it worth? And what should I then provide to readers of this blog?

As blogs go, WDBB is a pretty modest enterprise. I don’t allow advertising primarily because it is usually ugly (and doesn’t really pay anything to speak of — but I could probably be bought). Nevertheless, in the last month WDBB has had readers from 42 states and 12 foreign countries. Mostly, mind you, visitsors come from North Carolina (59%), but more from Raleigh (21%) than Durham (18%). So, if I link to the Herald-Sun site, and assuming all the Durham folks reading WDBB already subscribe to the Herald-Sun, 82% of WDBB readers would have to pay to see it. That isn’t going to happen. They aren’t likely to pay and, unless something changes, I am not likely to link.

So, why don’t I just pay the $10 a month, and then tell everyone what the Herald-Sun said? That’s legal (maybe) and that’s what I’m thinking about doing. My preference, however, is to provide a link for every comment of fact that I put in the blog.

On the other hand, why doesn’t the Herald-Sun get its ad sales crew’s act together and figure out what to sell on specific pages of the website? For the Bulls stories you'd think Mellow Mushroom, Tyler’s Taproom and Tobacco Road would be interested. Or, for that matter, what about Durham Bulls ads?

Maybe $10 from a Durham Bulls nutcase like me will get them more than a Moe’s ad that targets Bulls fans on their way to-from the game.

As for the Bulls fans from around the country and the world that appear to be interested in the team, isn’t there something to sell them? How about prestige? Or pride in Durham?

I mentioned yesterday that I’d written the Herald-Sun, but today I see that even the “contact us” links are now on the other side of the paywall. I don’t expect an answer. More than that, putting their contact info on the other side of the paywall strikes me as near-suicidal for a news gathering organization. It’s the 21st century. Are they expecting their reporters to get their tips by telephone? A telephone number is on the home page. I dialed it. Got a robot.

I wonder if I could even buy a Herald-Sun at the ball park? Does anyone know? Is the print edition of the Herald-Sun available at a news stand anywhere around the DBAP?

This is a lengthy way of explaining why WDBB has stopped providing links to the Herald-Sun. They have a well-above average reporting crew and if you are a Herald-Sun subscriber I commend their work to you. Their coverage is surely better that the amateurish stuff we do here at WDBB. But it’s beginning to look like we are the only independent voice you’ve got — and that should really scare you.

Note: The Tampa Bay Times (née St. Petersburg Times) also has a paywall up, but they at least let you visit a few times a month for free. We don't link to them either.


  1. You make some good points and The Herald-Sun does seem to be charging too much. But I have a rhetorical question for you: Were you a Bulls fan before newspapers started putting content on the Internet? Did you feel at that point that you should be able to get a print edition for free?

  2. Great question. And no easy answers. I actually started blogging because I wanted to learn more about Triple A baseball and the Bulls, and because I could see so much that was out there about major league teams. But there wasn't much about minor league teams except as they fed individuals to the majors (still isn't). The H-S was online at the time, but has gone through any number of writers since then.

    Another, also partial, answer is that I became a Bulls fans through a very odd quirk of fate (season tickets for a year at essentially no cost several seasons ago); became obsessed; educated myself with some help from folks on the web and who sat near me at the DBAP. If the Herald-Sun reportage had never been free what would I be saying? Who knows? If I lived in Durham, I'd probably have been a subscriber and it might be a non-issue at least for me as an individual. If they sold H-S at the ballpark I might have picked up a copy before the game. I much prefer paper to a computer screen.

    As a matter of simple etiquette I try never to make a statement of fact on my blog without providing a link; and I try to make sure to let readers know when it's just opinion. I usually source the numbers (unless they are from my own number-crunching), etc. That's why I may end up buy a digital subscription, just so I can say, "The Herald-Sun is reporting ... ". But I won't be able to provide a link. So that's sort of like saying, "Trust me." Not sure I want to do that.

    A far better solution would be for the H-S to figure out a way to make money on web advertising. Then we'd all be happy because I really do like pointing out a great story or great photo on the H-S and have done so in the past.

    Note: Rumor is that the N&O is going to put up a paywall soon, but they haven't been covering the Bulls anyhow.

  3. The N&O has a paywall now, it's just a metered wall. You can read a few stories for free.

    1. Hadn't noticed. Probably because I rarely go to website. Probably "free" to subscribers anyhow. If H-S metered, might have to re-think.

      Saw the tweet. Interesting conversation. May have to join in.