Sometimes, usually on Facebook or the comments section of a Press story online, we are asked why the reader has to pay for the content they wish to see. “I shouldn’t have to pay for this story,” the comments usually go. “This is the internet, where everything is free!”
Well, not exactly.
For years, news organizations — including The Press — provided free access to all content online. That strategy built our website into the robust news and information site that it is today, but it was not sustainable. As more and more readers left the print version of our news product and began reading news online, we as an industry needed to shift our thinking.
Our organization employs more than 150 people who create content, sell ads, deliver news or support the working journalists for this community.
All of this comes at a cost that is not completely paid for by advertising and print circulation.
Turns out, free is not a good business model.
Can you imagine expecting that from any other business? At the grocery store, you wouldn’t load up your cart with food and wheel it into the parking lot without paying. You wouldn’t get very far.
Our industry, and our readers, are adjusting to this brave new world as we go along. Other news operations require payment for digital access as well, and many of the larger organizations have seen increases in loyal digital readers. The New York Times, for example, added more than half a million digital-only subscriptions for its news products during 2016. Digital-only subs have grown 145 percent year-over-year at The Washington Post.
This spring, BostonGlobe.com tightened its tech to prevent readers from skirting the site’s paywall. They also cut back on the number of articles it let visitors read for free every 45 days — from five articles to a mere two.
These changes are part of the Globe’s ongoing strategy to entice readers to subscribe. “We’ve been constantly experimenting with finding that balance, because fundamentally we believe the Globe’s journalism is worth paying for,” Peter Doucette, chief consumer revenue officer at Boston Globe Media, told Nieman Lab.
The Globe’s digital subscriber count currently sits at roughly 84,000, up from around 65,000 a year ago. That’s the most of any local newspaper in the country.
Regional news operations like The Press still rely heavily on print subscribers who have digital access, rather than those who read our content exclusively online. But if the national trends indicate anything, we are headed toward a world where many folks will subscribe to a news service — on a screen.
One of our next challenges is to figure out what and how to best deliver that news and information. Possibilities include offering a different way to pay for content, such as micropayments where you pay per story rather than in subscription form. Or to provide subscriptions to premium, ad-free content, perhaps around a specific topic like high school sports or weather.
At the core of this concept of paying for digital content is our commitment to staying viable in a market that is underserved by media outlets. Now more than ever, the press needs to be holding institutions accountable, digging into the issues our community faces, and giving readers context in their ever-changing world.
And, judging by our digital audience, readers want the content we provide. Here’s a snapshot of how much that audience has grown in just a few years:
• We had 48.8 million pageviews in 2013.
• We finished 2016 with nearly 75 million pageviews.
• And we are still growing.
Readers have access to 10 free stories every 30 days. Print subscribers have full access to content on pressofatlanticcity.com as part of their subscription. All you need to do is create an account (a quick, one-time exercise). To sign up, click on “My subscription” on the top left of the homepage of pressofatlanticcity.com. And begin enjoying The Press in whatever format you prefer: print, web, digital replica, tablet or phone.
In this time of “fake news” accusations and fast-paced information, reliable, local content is worth paying for.
Kris Worrell is executive editor and vice president, news.