Paywall will end ‘free lunch’ for some Pioneer Press readers

John Paton
INMAJohn Paton

For a decade now, newspapers have been trying to atone for their “original sin”: offering free web content in the early days of the Internet, thus training their readers to expect something for nothing.

In recent years, newspapers, including the Star Tribune and the New York Times, have adopted what’s called the metered paywall model. Readers are allowed to view a certain number of articles each month for free, typically 10 to 20. After that, they can’t read any more unless they pay.

The metered paywall has generally been considered a big success in industry circles. And now, finally, the most prominent holdout has caved.

John Paton, CEO of Digital First — which runs the Pioneer Press and 74 other daily papers — has been the industry’s loudest voice favoring free access on the web. Paton’s vision aimed at attracting readers (eyeballs) in such great numbers that news organizations could make money selling digital ads to a large audience.

Putting up paywalls, Paton argued, would drive readers elsewhere for their news, thus defeating the goal of amassing a sizable audience to sell advertisers.

Last week, he threw in the towel. Posting on his blog, Paton reluctantly announced that Digital First papers would adopt a metered paywall system.

“Let’s be clear, paid digital subscriptions are not a long-term strategy,” Paton wrote. “They don’t transform anything; they tweak. At best, they are a short-term tactic. … But it’s a tactic that will help us now.”

Frankly, he admitted, his newspapers could use the dough: “We need more gas in the tank if we are going to complete this journey of print-to-digital transformation,” Paton wrote.

The Pioneer Press has an FAQ on its site explaining the new All-Access Subscription. It doesn’t say what the monthly limit on articles is. Instead, it notes: “We have set the meter on TwinCities.com high enough that many readers may never reach it, but if you are a regular/daily reader (and we hope you are), then you will want to subscribe to ensure you continue to have access to the news and information that matters to you.”

There are ways for savvy Internet users to get around paywalls, but the average reader is likely to either go elsewhere or pony up for continued access. The paper is charging only $2 a week for unlimited digital access and $7 a week for unlimited digital plus a seven-day print subscription.

That’s cheap. I hope regular readers of the Pioneer Press vote “yes” with their pocketbooks.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/25/2013 - 09:01 am.

    Funky business

    Those pay walls can be easily bypassed. I think the question is how much additional revenue do they really bring in? What if any trend are they seeing? It could cut both ways, is the percentage of people bypassing he pay walls increasing or decreasing as pay walls become more ubiquitous?

  2. Submitted by Leonard Foonimin on 11/25/2013 - 09:37 am.

    Unfortunately

    the Pioneer Press website is a joke, full of ads, very buggy, and not very complete in coverage as compared to the hard copy.

    Its important for the Twin Cities to maintain multiple, competing news sources. The Pioneer Press newspaper is decent but the website is awful – they should be paying readers to look at it.

    • Submitted by Pat McGee on 11/25/2013 - 12:14 pm.

      Ditto-PP should pay! people to come to their website

      I try, really try, to endure it but if it isn’t the worst news website there is in the US, it is a leading contender. It’s homepage is a random display of stuff. Mostly ads and occasionally links to stories. But the links disappear before your very eyes.The content sections display on top of each other…please fix the website

  3. Submitted by Tom Suther on 11/25/2013 - 11:17 am.

    In addition the papers he controls use the same interface which gives you gray test which is hard to read. So it seems he wants to put anotehr barrier in the way of reading.

  4. Submitted by Jim Mork on 11/25/2013 - 12:41 pm.

    Contradiction

    Ever since web access gave the public ways to get the same input that the Pioneer Press got, the question became “can they add some kind of special value?” Even the advertisers are hedging their bets, leading to a shrinking newspaper. Much as some of us are nostalgic about the decades when news channels were few, the question for society is what function the print newspapers provide. Years ago, there was a crusading print media. But as investors scooped up newspapers in hopes of profit, newspapers have become more and more timid versus power centers in society. They lose credibility in terms of presenting facts in a candid way. This is why I think their feeble attempts at monetizing their web presence are doomed to failure. Their reporters are now seen widely as recyclers of PR for those with the money to pay their costs. And even that function now is done at lower cost through electronic channels. I think the invester owners have cooked and eaten the goose that laid the golden eggs.

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