How many does registration keep out?

(cross-posted from my media blog)

The answer is inherently unknowable, of course, but my friend Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 had a great post recently about the ROI (return on investment) of registration systems — something he only thought of when he got prompted to log in at the New York Times after somehow getting logged out. How many potential readers get turned away by such prompts, he wondered.

It’s something I’ve wondered from time to time as well, whenever I hit a registration page — as I did the other day at the Los Angeles Times. I only wanted to read one particular article, which someone had blogged about (ironically, it was David Lazarus writing a dim-witted piece about how newspapers give away the store by not charging for their content). But the registration was just too much hassle. I couldn’t even be bothered to go find a BugMeNot login. (Time magazine’s Curious Capitalist blog has a nice rebuttal of Lazarus).

What did the LA Times lose by not having me read that article? Not much, perhaps. Advertisers and management types would no doubt argue that I wasn’t worth much anyway, since I’m not a regular reader and don’t live in LA, and therefore advertising would be wasted on me. But it’s also true that my view of the LA Times and its website has gone down just a little, and I’m unlikely to link to anything there — and that is a real long-term risk, I think.

In any case, Scott’s post is well worth reading, and Mark Potts has some thoughts over at Recovering Journalist as well.

9 thoughts on “How many does registration keep out?

  1. Back when I worked for the CNN community, we started with no registration. Anyone, anywhere could come to the site, read, and leave comments or debate the issues on the message boards. That ended the night Princess Diana was killed. For us, the question wasn’t who would we keep out, but who SHOULD we keep out?

    Today things are a bit different. The LA Times, NY Times registrations are intended to be tradeoffs — you register, they track. They track what you do and how you do it, and the tradeoff for you is reading their content free.

    I think it’s a dumb way to operate, but they absolutely do need a way to track visitors that will allow them to get targeted advertising or media buys at prime rates. With the ongoing outcry over privacy, the best and safest way to gather those metrics is to force registration and subsequent logins. Unfortunately.

    The way it should work: Register to leave comments. No registration to read articles, but an interstitial ahead of the first article informing the user that cookies are used to track usage and interest.

    • I totally agree with registration for comments, Karoli — if you don’t
      give people at least a bit of a hurdle to clear, then there’s a lot
      more noise as opposed to signal. But I’m not sure the registration
      helps target people — I assume the majority of people who fill them
      out lie anyway. Cookies and IP sniffing seem like they would work
      just fine for advertising purposes, and they are unobtrusive.

  2. I work in the Interactive section of the LA Times and the registration wall shouldn’t go up on your first visit, instead your 8th or so. I can’t control the wall but I can at least find out why it happened like this.

    • Thanks for the comment, Lucas — so you have a reg wall that only pops
      up after a certain number of visits? That’s interesting. A good
      idea, I think. It’s possible that I have followed links to the LA
      Times before and so tripped that wire without knowing it — I know I
      clicked through to the Lazarus piece several times over a period of
      days, so maybe that did it.

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