The Sunday Times broke the “Rowling admits Harry Potter should have ended up with Ron Weasley’s chick” story last weekend.
Given the clout of the Harry Potter franchise – which continues to go ka-ching – the story constituted a bona fide scoop. “Congrats” from above surely rained down on the journalist Claudia Croft who interviewed Ms. Rowling and wrote the piece.
Yet, The Sunday Times did not truly reap the rewards of a story with emotional relevance to millions around the world.
I don’t know if the Sunday Times forgot to pay their Google dues this month or if the algorithm simply frowns on the paper’s paywall, but a search on the topic shows the paper nowhere to be found on page 1 (search done on Sunday when the story was hot).
As you can see from the SERP captured above, BuzzFeed – what a surprise? – leads the charge, with The Independent, The Verge and Yahoo News right behind. Given the media’s general dependence on search, this seems like one massive whiff.
Before going further, I want to make clear that I’m not from the radical fringe believing that journalism, government and Springstreen tickets should be free.
It’s just that an all-or-nothing digital strategy like the one from the Sunday Times can’t be the answer. Whether you leave a crack in the door like The Wall Street Journal or offer X number of free looks like The New York Times, there’s got to be a hybrid digital strategy that the Sunday Times could embrace that serves varied masters including the one called Google.
Stepping back for a moment, there’s an elegance to the decision-tree flow in subscribing to the Times online. Great. But how about recognizing the tenets of sales funnel 101 which starts with general awareness? The money part comes after people have tried and like the product.
We keep reading that the economic model for newspapers is broken. While I sympathize with plight of the dailies, there’s something intrinsically wrong when a paper produces great journalism – one-off storytelling with an emotional bent – and the vast majority of readers are forced to turn to other media properties for the story.
Personally, I think the suits should have anticipated a crush of new readers coming for the Potter story and taken down the paywall this one time for all to see.
But that’s just me.
Maybe I do have a radical streak.
Note: Adrienne LaFrance at the Nieman Journalism Lab wrote a terrific piece with relevance to this topic, “Coming in the side door: The value of homepages is shifting from traffic driver to brand.“