Why Star Tribune print subscribers can’t read Jim Souhan’s Vikings columns for free online

The Star Tribune’s new paywalled sports content, Access Vikings, is waking folks up to how these things actually work. AV’s aftermath has pumped plenty of user outrage into my inbox and Braublog story comments.

The pissed-off strike a common theme: If I’m paying $XXX for my print subscription, why can’t I read Jim Souhan’s (or Pat Reusse’s, etc.) columns for free online?

I’ve offered the aggrieved two theories. One is technical: The Strib’s legacy print circulation system probably can’t talk to the newer paywall servers. The second is philosophical: The Strib is sending the message that just because you buy content in one platform, you don’t own it on another.

Right on both counts, according to spokesman Ben Taylor.

“Our circ system is not hooked up to the registration system, so technologically we can’t do it right now, even if we wanted to,” he says. 

(That’s also why print subscribers have to wait until Wednesday to see the only-in-print Sunday features pop up at startribune.com.)

The Strib could spend dough on programmers to make the marriage. “But if we could, I’m not sure we would want to,” Taylor notes. “The Star Tribune newspaper and Access Vikings are two separate products. We have content available on Access Vikings that is not available in print — and obviously we have a lot available in print that is not on Access Vikings.”

The current business model, he says, is that “users pay for delivery of content by channel or product, rather than paying for the right [to] read any Star Tribune content on any platform. If you are a subscriber to the Star Tribune print product, that does not mean you can access us on Kindle or Lexis/Nexus or the E-edition without paying for that additional access.”

This hasn’t stopped angry football fans from plotting revenge. Several vow to cancel their $200 print subscriptions and pay the $20 Access Vikings annual fee. That way, they get all the Purple content and their financially stressed tormentor is out a few hundred bucks.

True enough — though you would wait for those Sunday exclusives.

The cheapest way to see all the Strib’s content right now? Buy an e-Edition (a cheaper PDF replica of printed pages) that lets you see Sunday stories on Sundays, and purchase Access Vikings. However, that newsprint-free strategy probably won’t work for long, since paywalls and packages will undoubtedly multiply.

“Certainly, we can understand why customers would like to leverage their subscriptions across platforms or products, but it’s questionable whether that is a viable business model,” Taylor says.

Still, he holds out a ray of hope for future bundling. “We do expect all this will evolve as we add products and platforms, and sometime in the future we may very well migrate to a different approach.”

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by karl anderson on 10/21/2009 - 04:10 pm.

    I read it in the morning over breakfast. I don’t care about the digital aspect. Why get worked up over that?

    Seems just a little weird…

  2. Submitted by Tim McNeill on 10/21/2009 - 04:28 pm.

    This is really the problem with this pay-wall stuff. The consumer has to be a test dummy while the media giants try to figure out how to best serve their subscribers. And, does the media really understand who the consumer is and what the consumer wants? I guess time will spell this out more clearly but, how many people will be upset and cancel out of all the current options? I for one am getting tapped out of money just trying to get the information I seek on-line and in print.

  3. Submitted by Jim Camery on 10/21/2009 - 04:35 pm.

    Whenever I read those “I’m cancelling…” comments, I wonder to myself if even 10% are actual subscribers and in a position to carry through on it.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/21/2009 - 04:56 pm.

    I am in favor of anything that makes money for the Strib. And I am going to have a lot of patience while they are in the process of getting their ducks in a row.

    But taking off my hat as a lover of newspapers and putting on my hat as a disinterested observer of capitalism in action, it will be interesting to see how the Strib sorts out the inevitable conflicts when it tries to compete with itself. In such situations, I don’t think both sides can win, but I suspect it’s entirely possible that both sides can lose.

  5. Submitted by Stan Daniels on 10/21/2009 - 05:13 pm.

    No doubt the Strib needs to find alternative sources of revenue, so charging for online content makes some sense. But they did it all wrong.

    The Wall Street Journal does this right. One fee for online (web/iPhone/Blackberry) and another fee for print. You can also purchase both together at a discount.

    The Strib is still giving away most of their content while trying to charge more for some which they think is premium. Nothing personal to Souhan, but I won’t lose any sleep missing his column (or knowing what Brette Favre had for breakfast).

  6. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/21/2009 - 06:11 pm.

    There is so much coverage of the Vikings in the print edition, it’s hard to imagine wanting to pay for more on the web. And sports information is widely and extensively available for free on the web, it’s hard to justify paying for content anywhere.

  7. Submitted by Tim Milner on 10/21/2009 - 08:05 pm.

    Well I am one of those folks who pays for the print edition (~$250 per year) and wants to have the option of reading the Star Tribune on line or in print. Frankly, I will temporarily accept the technical argument – but the philosophical passe me by.

    Here is my thoughts. If I pay for the print edition, I get a specific amount of content. I also have a certain amount of advertisements put before me. If I go on line, in this case to read 10 minutes of the Sports page, I get the exact same content with a totally different set of advertisers. The Star Tribune can, in effect, charge 2 different advertisers for the opportunity to be seen by producing the SAME CONTENT. If that is not a win win situation, than I don’t know what is. I wish I could get revenue from 2 sources to produce just 1 product.

    The dilemma is that they will never, ever, produce enough on line premium content to justify the added expense. So, they have to shift print content to premium.

    But that is just going to make people like me rethink my subscription. The fact is with a little RSS tweaking, I can pretty much get every piece of hard news in the Star Tribune, sans the local columnists and the “special features”, for free. So, why would I not pay the $5.95/3 months of Vikings access and can the $250.year print copy?

    My final comment is to Mr. Taylor. Your circulation department staff need SERIOUS training on this issue. I talked with 2 employees plus a supervisor (who, by the way, still has not called me back after she promised to do so on Monday afternoon). None could not give me a rational explanation for why I could not read Souhan’s column on line. The reality is they, themselves, don’t understand why it is this way. I felt sorry for them. I think someone should at least give them a creative script to read from to help them out.

  8. Submitted by Adam Platt on 10/21/2009 - 10:12 pm.

    It’s one thing to create new content and put it behind a paywall, but to tell me that the $66 I pay every 60-90 days does not entitle me to read the same content I was reading for free last week, and the same content I will read for free next week, because Souhan’s column happens to be about the Vikings this week? We are through the looking glass. Or perhaps bankruptcy breeds insanity.

    Perhaps the ST should focus on trying to generate revenue from all the readers who pay it nothing than the folks who already float its boat. Suffice it to say that making subscribers pay twice for the same content is simply another way to create fewer subscribers.

    With all due respect to Mr. Taylor, this management’s analysis of “viable business models” basically comes down to throwing purple darts at a wall.

  9. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/22/2009 - 07:43 am.

    “Suffice it to say that making subscribers pay twice for the same content is simply another way to create fewer subscribers.”

    I think by charging for net content, the Strib will have more paying subscribers overall then they would if they didn’t. But I don’t think they will have nearly enough more subscribers to make a significant difference in their revenue situation. I wouldn’t mind having access online to the content I read in print, but it’s not something I am willing to pay for. And if given a choice between an online and print publication, for a local newspaper, I will choose the latter.

    That’s really the dilemma for newspapers. The online version is cheap to produce, and offers many advantages in news delivery (but is nearly totally ineffective in delivering advertising), but there is no viable way to generate revenue from it. The print publication is expensive to produce, but it is still a product people are willing to pay for.

    What we need is obvious, an online publication that can generate revenue. I just have no idea how to go about doing it.

  10. Submitted by mike buchholz on 10/25/2009 - 05:51 pm.

    i see a coupe of issues here:
    1) The strib needs more people to pay for content. It should find a way to get people who uses everything for “free” to pay something.

    2) the strib should not charge subscribers of the paper an additional fee. if they dont want print subscribers then they should stop delivering the print editions. i am a strib paper subscriber and enjoy it daily. well worth it. raise the annual paper fee $12 dollars for the year. ($1 per month) and give access to the paywall for subscribers

    when you think about printing, delivery what we pay for the strib is very cheap. my guess is the per hour (while reading) of entetrainment you get is cheaper than any form of media on the planet.

    they need to find away to allow this for print subscribers because i assure you i am more in the cancellation camp than pay more for extra online stuff.

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