English Baptist readers will know that the Baptist Times has found the last few years hard work financially. The fact they are still here and publishing (with no signs of stopping) is testament to the hard work of the BT team and the benefits they bring to Baptist life. However, athough they have a loyal subscription based readership the future will be tough for a weekly print paper in a world that is seeing the decline of newspaper sales.
So is there an internet based alternative; in place of the high production and distribution costs associated with mailing dead trees around the country why not fully embrace the lost cost world of the internet?
On first view the possibilities for an internet based newspaper are not great. Generally we think of net usage as free with sites being paid for by advertising. Though with advertisements generating £5 per thousand visitors you need lots of site visitors to pay for the employment and overhead costs of production; such a model might work for Guido Fawkes whose site gets about 50,000 visitors a day but it is hard to image the BT getting so many. Recently the Times has operated with a paywall and it will be interesting to see if this move is successful in the long term but for something as niche as the BT it is hard to see any other commercial way forward.; though finding a price point which attracts subscribers and provides business viability isn’t easy (around £30 a year?).
Such a web based future would have two consequences. First, daily updating would be needed. The successful websites update several times a day, partly because updates drive traffic and while the BT wouldn’t necessarily need to copy them they would need to be regularly refreshed and provide a higher quality service than free web based Christian news. Second, add-ons which help justify the paywall. This might be through special offers but is more likely to be through content; for example producing extracts that can be inserted into church newsletters on a weekly and monthly basis; producing high quality material to be used in worship to help churches intercessory prayer and the like; and perhaps providing access to content provided by others particularly video stream.
Such a BT might also attract traffic from current Baptist bloggers all of which helps boost advertising revenue. Indeed their might be scope for developing the BT as a blog platform in the way that some national newspapers like Guardian and Telegraph do.
I imagine that the print version of the BT will survive for a while yet but sooner or later the web will win!