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.