It's almost the one-year anniversary of the Orange County Register erecting a paywall on its website, a paywall that owners Aaron Kushner and Eric Spitz swore was strict, swore would never go down, swore was impenetrable–indeed, Spitz told his own paper “there will be no way to 'game' the system.”
Unless, of course, the Register games the system on its own. Because the dirty little secret with the Reg's website nowadays is that it's harder to find a story behind the paywall than one that readers can view for free.
Of the 16 top stories on the Register's homepage that I checked this past Sunday afternoon (the five stories highlighted with headlines and time stamps at top, and the 11 stories highlighted in the “Local News” section), all of them were free. All. This flies in the face of Spitz last year telling his stenographer, Reg reporter Mary Ann Milbourn, in justifying the paywall, “It is unfair to our paying (print) subscribers that someone else is getting our content for free,”
Welp, I haven't subscribed in years–howdaya figure that one, Eric?
The paywall was a bit more rigid from my iPhone, but the majority of the stories nevertheless were free to read. Each story did have the tag, “Enjoy this complimentary article from the Orange County Register. For full access to our website, Please click here”–but I've been reading that tag on “complimentary” articles ever since TJ Simers started writing–and that was back in September.
So is the paywall coming down for good? Did newish editor Rob Curley–hailed for years as a digital whiz kid–finally convince Kushner and Spitz of their folly? We reached out to Curley and Kushner's Minister of Information, Eric Morgan, for comment; Morgan replied this way:
A select number of articles and columns have remained open to every site visitor since making the transition to Digital Access (subscriptions) on ocregister.com a year ago, as has local reference information such as weather and car/job/real estate listings. We continue to learn and experiment with the number, timing and type of articles we offer for free as the total amount of content we generate for our subscribers continues to grow. There are no plans to do away with digital subscriptions. Thanks.
By “select number,” Morgan must mean “almost all of them; as of 7 a.m. this Tuesday morning, only two of the top 16 stories on the Reg's home page were behind the paywall. And by Morgan saying they “continue to learn and experiment with the number, timing and type of articles,” he means “almost all of them.”
In the meanwhile, don't feel sorry for the saps who paid for a digital subscription for the Register–they, after all, are Register readers.