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Thursday, November 21,2013

Dailies to hike subscription rates in new online paywall plan

By Jefferson Dodge

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.”


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The comment about them not having cut back on coverage is, of course, ridicuous. When I worked at the Camera as business editor (under Knight-Ridder) there were more than 70 people in the newsroom. Now I'd be surprised if there were more than 20.



The Camera seems to be working at cross purposes with a paywall, since the revenue from online ads is based on page views, and the paywall is only likely to reduce those clicks.

Another potential problem is that an increasing amount of the Camera's online content is actually being donated free by a constituency of anonymous forum commenters, including a number of tea party hacks who dump thousands of words a week into the comments sections. This gives a decidely liberal town the dissonant feel of a right-wing playground and hotbed of pro-gun sentiment online.

Although the Camera invites readers to assume its letters and comments are spontaneous reactions from readers in their own words, the politically lopsided quality of its forums is not entirely accidental. The staff manipulate the forum content behind the scenes, blocking and discarding the posts of some commenters for reasons that can only have to do with the views expressed. Whether this stems from the political sympathies of management, pressure from advertisers, or fear of the gun lobby is not clear.

Nor is it clear whether Boulderia's progressive citizenry will balk at paying for big blocks of text pasted in from conservative and libertarian websites.




The Camera is lacking real articles.  They have moved away from journalism and towards just retyping press releases.  I know there are limitations on their payroll, but it would be nice if they picked an interesting story and followed up with some good questions to the principles.

Take the muni as an example.  When the city talks about more green power what exactly are they talking about.  If it's fracked natural gas, then most of Boulder isn't interested.  What exactly is xcel willing to do to move to more green power?  Sure, Boulder and xcel don't want to answer these questions in detail, but the citizens of Boulder would be very interested.