Surveys pay our bills so you don’t have to

Published 9:07 pm Tuesday, October 14, 2014

By Steve Stewart

Our newspaper made a strategic decision three years ago to go “all in” on free access to local news.

We believed then — and remain convinced now — that future profits would come from maximizing the number of eyeballs on our newspaper, magazine and website, then leasing those eyeballs to businesses that need to market their products and services to the people of Suffolk. The traditional alternative of charging readers for content seems the riskier strategy in an information marketplace where free news is abundant and readily accessible, and “subscribers” are less and less loyal.

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Most newspapers opted for free websites 20 years ago when the Internet revolutionized the way people consume information. Many of those same newspapers are now trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube by erecting so-called paywalls and attempting to charge for the same digital news that they’ve given away for 20 years. I’ll be surprised if it works.

Free news — whether delivered in print or digitally — requires us to work tirelessly and creatively to monetize the large audience we’ve amassed. That can mean some minor inconvenience for readers. In the case of the printed newspaper, it means leaving your home to pick up a copy, as opposed to having it delivered cheaply to your doorstep. Online, it means providing — anonymously — information to the advertisers who pay the bills and keep our website free.

Since we began delivering Google Consumer Surveys on a couple of years ago, reader acceptance has grown slowly but steadily. In the beginning, less than 15 percent of online readers were willing to take an advertiser’s two-question survey in order to gain access to a news story. Today, half of our readers complete the surveys. Many of you do so begrudgingly. We understand the frustration.

We also understand that the alternative — asking for your credit card number instead of asking you a couple of questions — would be even more unpopular.

Covering the news and keeping you informed about a vibrant community like Suffolk requires us to generate revenue to pay the journalists who produce the content. Google Consumer Surveys are one creative way for us to do that. The information you provide through those surveys is valued by advertisers who are happy to pay for it. And it allows us to live up to our commitment to keep the news free for you the reader.

Steve Stewart is publisher of the Suffolk News-Herald. His email address is