As the Boulder Daily Camera, Longmont Times-Call and their sister papers in the region implement a paywall to begin charging for their online content beginning Dec. 2, they will also increase print subscription rates.
Prairie Mountain Publishing President and CEO Al Manzi confirmed in an interview with Boulder Weekly on Nov. 19 that the newspaper will begin charging more for print subscriptions as part of its new “all-access” plan, which was unveiled the day before by Digital First Media, the parent company of The Denver Post, Camera, Times-Call and other publications, including East County weeklies operated by Colorado Hometown News.
The Camera and Times-Call, which are operated by Digital First subsidiary Prairie Mountain Publishing, had not been charging readers for access to online stories, although Manzi notes that there has been a fee associated with reading the Daily Camera’s E-Edition. He says full access to that digital edition, and all other online content, will be included when readers pay the additional amount for print subscriptions, an increase that will be implemented over the next month.
It is part of a growing effort by newspaper chains across the country to begin charging readers for online content as digital ads have failed to produce enough revenue. In a Nov. 18 Daily Camera story, Manzi says that “using our print model on the digital side of our business has not worked well enough to allow us to rely solely on print and digital advertising revenue.”
That article, which also ran in the Post, acknowledges that Digital First Media CEO John Paton “has been a vocal critic of paywalls in the past, calling them ‘a stack of pennies’ in an industry swapping print dollars for digital dimes.” Paton admits in the story that paywalls can restrict online audience growth in the long term, and characterizes the move as a short-term initiative. Manzi declined to speculate on what the long-term strategy is, citing the constantly changing nature of the industry.
He told BW that the print subscription hikes will vary by customer, based on factors such as the rate they currently pay, their longevity as a subscriber, their buying profile, and where they live.
Manzi confirmed that readers will still have free access to all online stories in the Colorado Daily, which runs many, but not all, Daily Camera articles.
The number of stories that online readers will be able to access free of charge before being assessed a $10-a-month fee will be unveiled in the next couple of weeks, Manzi says.
He adds that the company does not expect the paywall to cause a significant decline in online reader numbers or digital ad sales, and while a consultant quoted in the Digital First story projects a 15 percent reduction in print subscribers due to the subscription rate increases, Manzi remains optimistic.
“We always set our expectations at zero, but we know there will be some impact on print subscriptions,” he says. “Our job is to mitigate that loss as much as possible.”
When asked whether any new revenue will be used to restore cuts that have been made in recent years, Manzi says the streamlining of the chain’s operations in areas like printing, ad design and production will remain unchanged, because they achieved efficiencies.
In response to a question about newsroom layoffs, he says nothing the company has done has “significantly reduced the amount of coverage that we have given to any of our markets.”