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Star Tribune will start charging some readers for web, app access Nov. 1

If you read more than 20 online Star Tribune stories a month and don't subscribe to print beyond Sunday, expect to start paying Nov. 1, officials say. That's also the day the paper's iPad app is restricted to daily print subscribers, or those who buy a new digital subscription.

For the first ten weeks, non-subscribers will pay 99 cents a week — about four bucks a month — for full access to startribune.com, the mobile site, eEdition print replica, iPad app and forthcoming iPhone and Android apps. Adding Sunday print will cost another 30 cents weekly.

On Nov. 1, the Strib's new apps become subscriber-only
On Nov. 1, the Strib's new apps become subscriber-only

Current Sunday-only print subscribers can add the digital subscription for 29 cents a week, or $1.25 a month.

The price goes up after the introductory period, but the Strib isn't saying how much. The feet-wet period would end mid-January, if the organization hits the Nov. 1 rollout date.

Print subscribers who take more than the Sunday edition get the run of the place for no extra charge.

Access to a few digital products, including politics and sports newsletters and a high school sports-score app, remain free to everyone. (The regular news app will still be a free download, but won't work without a subscription.)

Strib links clicked via social networking, search engines or other external sources won't count against the 20-story limit. Non-payers can still see headlines, classifieds and photo/video galleries.

The Strib says 7 million people read its digital content each month, and 3 percent read more than 20 stories. If none are current daily print subscribers, that means about 200,000 frequent readers would bump up against the coming screen nags.

How many will pony up? The Strib isn't releasing target figures, but earlier this week the New York Times claimed 324,000 digital subscribers six months after unveiling its so-called "meter." The Strib lacks the Times' national cachet or international readership. However, if 1 10 percent of those 200,000 frequent readers eventually pays $75 a year, the Strib would gross an additional $1.5 million annually.

Critics contend the Strib may lose at least that much in web ads should readership go down. Officials allow that an audience decline might happen, but advertisers more highly value a paying "engaged" audience, offsetting the loss.

Publishers like the Strib's Mike Klingensmith don't think of digital paywalls and meters as ends in themselves; fees are also meant to buttress still-profitable print subscriptions because "free digital access" now has dollar value. Similarly, qualified ads from print advertisers now "flow through" into the iPad app for free, which may be a national first, Strib marketing exec Steve Yaeger says.

The question for competitors is how they take advantage of the Strib's new reader hurdle. Will there be a meaningful number of disgruntled readers to snatch? Can smaller but staunchly free local news operations like the Pioneer Press, MPR, MinnPost or TV successfully market themselves as "all free all the time"? (And will this discourage linking to the Strib if links from competitors are counted unlike social networking and search engines?) Will this make it easier for a Huffington Post-like upstart to emerge?

The Strib, which will report year-over-year paid circulation increases any day now, is approaching a 50/50 mix of consumer and ad revenue — an even split unheard of for most of newspapering's ad-dominated history. Klingensmith believes consumer dollars are more stable than ad bucks in today's environment.

The digital subscription is only part of the Strib's bid to claim the mantle of "premium" product. This Sunday, the Strib is expected to unveil some design tweaks to its print edition including more color on inside news and sports pages, and beefing up Sunday Metro, Monday business, and feature sections such as Homes, Travel, and Taste.

MinnPost CEO Joel Kramer: MinnPost won't try to take advantage when other publishers charge readers

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Comments (27)

They can't be too serious about wanting new customers. I received a mailing offering the Sunday paper for 50 cents a week and it had an on-line address to order it. I have tried to use that for over a week and it doesn't get you where you want to go. If you call to order you're put on hold - 2-5 minutes was what I heard just now. You'd think they'd staff the subscription lines a bit better.

Plenty of sites to get the news -- even local -- that don't charge. Dumb move.

Well, just another reason to avoid the Strib. If they can do with fewer web views, more power to them.

The Star Tribune is over valuing their product.

That is just another reason to read the Pioneer Press instead of the Red Star Tribune..

I guess I will have to take a dose of Shooter instead of Reusse & Sid...

they are kinda shooting themselves in the foot...

Glad to see you back and writing David...

I take it those of you complaining about paying for professional journalism aren't contributing financially to MinnPost? Thanks for nothing, and please show yourselves the door.

What the Strib ought to do is charge for access to the comments section and require people to use their real names (or login via Facebook, as the PP now does). That should cut down on the hate speech going on over there.

Let's hope the Strib goes the route of the NY Times and The New Yorker, and lets its subscribers who pay a full $247 for 7/52 print versions, have "the run of the [on-line] place" as David says here. However, my most recent re-subscription notice says I have to pay $14.95 extra to access the web paper, and I got a phone call to that effect a couple of months ago. So they still have to get their minds around what they're really doing. There should be some advantages to paying $247 to get the paper.

So if I understand this correctly, a Saturday-Sunday subscriber will not pay the fee. But the Saturday Strib is a mini-me Sunday Strib, complete with all the ads to recycle. Hmmm. That's one way to get your weekend circulation up.

First, David good to hear from you again.

Now onto the Strib. I have been reading the iPad edition and it's pretty weak at best. Not close to the content of the print edition and timing is poor on many articles.

Seeing that our print copy of the Strib now shows up around 6:30, we are dropping it. For us, we may just start reading the USA Today iPad app (which is excellent) and get local news elsewhere.

Once you're a subscriber to the Star Tribune, the annual subscription is more expensive than buying the Pioneer Press daily at a convenience store. In my opinion, neither paper has a clear advantage over the other.

@Matt Brillhart

"What the Strib ought to do is charge for access to the comments section and require people to use their real names (or login via Facebook, as the PP now does). That should cut down on the hate speech going on over there."

They were kicking around the idea of charging people for the ability to contribute to the comments section, and booting those idiots who now fill up the comments with their hate speech and vitriol. By kicking them to the curb, their fee ($10 or more per month) would not be refunded, and their account would be terminated immediately. So, they'd have to get a new account and pay another fee to get that privilege back. For all the hate mongers out there, that could be quite expensive.

As for requiring people to use their real names, that won't work, because it is the right of everyone to be anonymous. If you want proof of that, just look at all the news organizations that cite "anonymous" sources or grant anonymity to any government official who asks, without any good reason, even though it violates their own policy against granting anonymity.

Also, you can't force people to become members of a social network (especially one that has no regard for the privacy of their users) in order to login to another site to make public comments. You can make up names even on Facebook, so that doesn't get you anywhere. Imagine a world where we all have to publicly identify ourselves in order to participate in our own democracy, or air our grievances: a perfect setup for retaliation.

The Strib needs to clamp down on the hate speech and the inappropriate comments, but they also need to practice what they preach, and they're clearly not doing either one of those things.

I have a feeling that the Mpls Stibs plan to charge will be just as successful as Access Vikings was. Since many of their top stories are Vikings and Stadium related I fail to see that readers will put much value in the daily non-sport news.

But hey, more power to them. Fixing a system that wasn't broken worked well for Netflix.

I buy the Strib every Sunday and read it online every other day. Quality journalism ain't free; I'm happy to pay something for the online content. Just hope it's not too pricey.

David -

The thing that jumped out at me from this story is the sourcing. You attribute it to "officials," presumably at the request of your sources. Could you give us a sense as to why those sources would request such a high level of anonymity? Compare their tags to the "people familiar with internal deliberations" and the "personal friend of Sulzberger" who provided info to New York for this piece in advance of the new NYT paywall:

http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2010/01/new_york_times_set_to_mimic_ws.html

Surely, the Star Tribune paywall can't be judged a more sensitive topic than the NYT paywall? So why would whoever provided this info to you request that they be treated that way? And why would you grant it? I'm genuinely curious.

Good. It will speed their demise.

I actually read four or five newspapers everyday, online. They are loaded with advertisements. Does that count for something? Don't they make any money for their papers? If the Strib goes to this plan, I will probably read 20 articles a month and stop at that. I don't live in the metro area, and many of their more regional stories are covered just as well by the other 3-4 smaller papers' sites that I visit. Like the others say, subscribing to the physical Strib is unworkable. I would not get the paper until I'm home from work in the evening when the news is stale. The irony is that this practice may accelerate the ever-greater number of people who never read any newspaper of any kind. Trust me, young folks don't read a daily paper. And they don't read Minnpost.

Adam -

Most of the info came via Steve Yeager, marketing director. The baseline of the info was a FAQ prepared by the paper (but perhaps not released yet) with follow-up between me and Steve.

No one requested it be treated this way; I just figured the baseline info came from across management, so it was meant to be more generic than furtive.

Four points that would sell me on a digital subscription, basically a summation of many of the comments above:

1. Banish pop-up and overlay ads. Integrate ads into the page so that they do not impede viewing.
2. Keep the price point moderate.
3. Commit to spending some of that (estimated) $1.5MM in revenue on deeper and better local journalism.
Restrict comments to paid subscribers only. Pseudonyms do not bother me, but hatred is chilling.

Thanks for a very good article, and mostly constructive comments.

Star Tribune has lost its value to me. I think it is a generation thing. Most of the stories are so old I have already heard them before they show up in the paper. The on-line comments are frightening. I would cancel in a minute if my spouse would agree. Am sure the kids will never subscribe to the Strib.

David -

Thanks for that. Makes good sense.

"Strib links clicked via social networking, search engines or other external sources won't count against the 20-story limit."

I should note that if true, this is a departure from the New York Times model. You always have access to the Times from external links, but those clicks do count against the 20 story limit. After 20 clicks from links, you are blocked from many Times stories.

OH NO! I just hit my 20 for the month. Can I still read the stories via Google Reader or Calibre? I think those are based out of the RSS feeds.

$8 a month? Gross. I'd consider it if the cost was half that (the introductory rate) indefinitely.

Pioneer Press here I come!

Heh. Dropped NYT when the set theirs up as well.

I gave the Strib my eyeballs for their advertisers and that wasn't enough. Taking them off of my newsreader list. Hopefully, enough folks will do the same and they will realize their mistake.

Ask Netflix for advice, Strib.

Hubris hubris hubris! I try to read the strib through their Olive reader link with passwords on my Android tablet. Outrageously bad. Checked out the Sunday paper presentation this passed Sunday. It did not exist it was the Friday read. I nave access but will not use it unless it vastly improves. So with the 20 read limit and there choice of staff they will have finally driven me out of here. On the plus side no more kk or jl.

As was said management perceptions over value their product.

The StarTrib paywall has lead to my discover of MinnPost. Thanks, Strib! I'll play taps while I delete you from my "Favorites" (or is that clown music?)