After a two-month run, the Miami Herald has reported that their program allowing readers to donate money for online content had been discontinued.
StinkyJournalism wrote about the donation links at the end of online stories before. Now, after two months, the option for voluntary payment had been dropped, the Herald business section reports. Elissa Vanaver, a company vice president and assistant to the publisher, tells the Herald, "After evaluating two months of response, we've decided to end the program.''
With newspapers struggling to make ends meet, laying off reporters and cutting investigative and in depth reporting, finding a way to cash in on online content is a matter of necessity for continuing quality and ethical journalism. And though voluntary donations were unlikely to prove any kind of real solution, the Herald's system provoked some hope.
As StinkyJournalism wrote, Herald Executive Editor Anders Gyllenhaal reported some success in the first week of the experiment. In a December 20 story, Gyllenhaal wrote that the donation system had already "elicited an encouraging stream of gifts."
That stream appears to have dried up. According to the Herald, Vanaver "would not say how much money the effort had raised."
In a post on Feb. 22, Alan Mutter at Reflections of a Newsosaur wrote that online payment experiments in general have offered few promising results, He writes,
Industry surveys have shown that the average number of subscribers at paid newspaper sites is equal to 2.4% of the paper’s print circulation. Newsday famously admitted that only 35 web visitors have coughed up the $5 a week now required to view its site.
Mutter says the Herald's decision to cancel the donation program was also because "the paper felt the request for reader donations conflicted with a campaign for Haiti earthquake relief."
Interestingly, while online journalism consumers may be reticent to pay for newspaper stories online, they are coughing up some money for non-profit news. Spot.Us, a site that allows readers to selectively fund ("crowdfund") journalism projects just did a redesign and seems to keeping pace. But while subscription fees for print news are understood as the norm, because web news has already been free for so long online readers may view payment for these advertisement-laced sites as more of a tip than a subscription. The Herald's optional donation experiment may have reinforced that sense.
Mutter reprints some comments from Gyllenhaal's more hopeful report last December, and one commenter, lucky0111 highlights this difference succinctly. "Yeah, I'm going to tip a for-profit business. I'd rather burn my money," they write.