Registration Still Required

Glenn Reynolds has an interesting piece in TCS on the topic of registration requirements for online newspapers.

But I think that if advertisers are relying on registration data, they’re either fooling themselves, or being fooled. And if newspapers think it’s worth irritating their readers to target ads, they’re making a big mistake, too. Readers who register as 97-year-old black women living in Alaska will be getting ads for frostproof incontinence products, but that’s not going to do anyone any good. . . .


Registration schemes — especially registration schemes that don’t work well, which is most of them — turn off readers. Those readers go somewhere else. And because web surfing is often a matter of habit, once turned off they’re likely not to come back.

This is especially true for media outlets that are below the top tier. I might bother to register for the New York Times — but probably not the Maryville-Alcoa Daily Times. And nobody’s going to register at 150 different sites. Penenberg joins the chorus of web users asking newspapers to get together and establish a unitary registration scheme — one that will let people sign on once, get the cookie, and seamlessly browse all the papers. Newspapers had better follow this advice, or they’ll find people using an informal alternative, like the popular password-sharing website.

The Web isn’t new anymore, and newspaper people have far less excuse to be getting this stuff wrong than they had three or four years ago. Can we see some progress here, please?

Agreed all around. The major papers– NYT, WaPo, LAT– do a pretty good job. I seldom have to re-imput my password and the information required to register was minimal. The worst significant paper that I’ve encountered is the AJC, which I check nearly every day to keep up with the Atlanta Braves. Not only do they have a questionnaire longer than the Census Bureau’s but their cookie management system is horrible. I have to put my name, userid, and password in almost every time I visit.

Still, as annoying as registration requirements are, I’m willing to put up with a bit of inconvenience to access content. What I find truly inexplicable is the sites that wall off most of their content from non-subscribers. Why on Earth would anyone pay to subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, for example, just to have access to one more newspaper? All they’re doing is ensuring that a large number of people who otherwise would see their advertisements, won’t. And does the Dallas Morning News really think I’m going to pay a substantial fee to read three or four stories a day–at most–speculating about who is going to be the third string fullback on the Cowboys when there are half a dozen other sites giving the information away for nothing?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jeff Harrell says:

    Adam Penenberg of Wired recently wrote about this, and if I may humbly say so I penned a few words on the subject myself in July.

    I mention this only because both Adam’s article and mine touch on different aspects of the question. Consider them variations on a theme. 🙂

  2. KipEsquire says:

    Why on Earth would anyone pay to subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, for example, just to have access to one more newspaper?

    Um, maybe because some of us work on Wall Street? 😉

  3. Boyd says:

    You really struck a nerve for me with the Dallas Morning News comment, James. For years, I used their web site to follow America’s Team, but when they introduced their new system requiring payment to read most of their Cowboys stories, I switched to the Ft Worth Star-Telegram, and haven’t looked back.

  4. James Joyner says:


    Yep. FWST and the pages are quite good. I miss JJT and, especially, Gooselin. But not enough to play their games.

  5. Jeff Harrell says:

    As long as we’re bitching about the Morning News, can I complain about WFAA?

    Last week (or the week before; I lose track) the President was in town. I heard a rumor about something interesting that happened at Love Field, but it wasn’t in the Morning News. I thought maybe WFAA carried it, so I went looking… got a registration key from Bug Me Not… and what did I find? They had the exact same story! Not surprising, given that they’re both Belo properties, but still, it pissed me off.