All of Lee's newspapers in Montana and Wyoming, including the Missoulian, started a new online subscription service today, and that required each paper's editor to explain it to readers. It's not easy breaking it to customers that previously free content will now cost money. So, how'd the editors handle the responsibility?
Gerry O'Brien, editor of the Helena I-R and Montana Standard, opened with this bit of history:
Ever since newspapers entered the online world, readers were incredulous: “I can’t believe you guys give your content away for free,” most said. The strategy at the time was to draw readers to the website for free and support it with advertising. Internet sites are great tools for showing advertisers exactly how many people look at their ad, because it keeps track of that.
The I-R and Standard, by the way, are only offering 15 free news stories per month before charging a subscription, as opposed to the Missoulian, which is offering 20.
Sherry Devlin, editor of the Missoulian and Ravalli Republic, offered a reasonable explanation — the news industry is changing, so are we — and avoided much sugarcoating.
In recent years, the newspaper industry has undergone significant changes, with the increasing use of digital formats to provide readers with round-the-clock, interactive news coverage.
The Missoulian has taken advantage of those changes to position ourselves as western Montana's No. 1 source of news and information across an ever-expanding array of digital and print platforms.
On Monday, Aug. 1, we take another significant step forward...
Chad Baldwin of the Casper Star Tribune took a similar approach, but added this comparison for upset online readers (and coffee drinkers):
While access to trib.com for our most active users won’t be free, it’ll still be a pretty darned good deal: The monthly cost for print subscribers will equal the average cost of a trip to Starbucks. For those who aren’t print subscribers, it’ll cost the same as two trips to Starbucks.
For those unfamiliar with Starbucks' pricing, that's $2.95 per month for print subscribers and $6.95 per month for non-subscribers.
The Billings Gazette wrote a long explanation and tagged it with this headline: "Online subscription plan includes free, paid content." It's received more than 120 comments so far.
For comparison sake, here are Lee's various pricing plans:
Missoulian: $20/year for subscribers, $50/year for non-subscribers
Ravalli Republic: $10/year for subscribers, $25/year for non-subscribers
Helena I-R: $19.99/year for subscribers, $49.99/year for non-subscribers
Montana Standard: $19.99/year for subscribers, $49.99/year for non-subscribers
Billings Gazette: $19.50/year for subscribers, $69.50/year for non-subscribers
Casper Star Tribune: $29.50/year for subscribers, $69.50 for non-subscribers