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

Technological limitations and business philosophy keep print subscribers from breeching the new Access Vikings paywall, says a company spokesman.
By David Brauer

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.

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“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.”