Screenshot from The Star Press
The Star Press has started charging for online access.

I’ve been following the outcry regarding the local newspaper’s efforts to charge for online access. The Star Press —  like all of the other Gannett-owned newspapers — started charging website visitors $10 a month to read articles.

Disclosure: I worked at The Star Press for about a decade as a graphics editor, copy editor, page designer and online editor before leaving in 2008. Although I have been critical in the past for the newspaper’s management and policies, this time I wish to applaud their courageousness.

Of course, people are displeased and venting on Facebook. The comments and entertaining and sad at the same time. Here’s the bottom line:

The cost for a digital subscription is about roughly 33 cents a day. That’s less than the newsstand issue (last time I checked, $1 daily and $1.75 on Sundays).

A visitor can view seven articles in a month before a subscription is required. That’s a little low for my tastes, actually, but access to the obituaries, home page, index page and wire stories are still free. If you subscribe to a print edition, you get online access for free. The other thing I noticed is that the digital subscribers get access to more online features (view them here). One can also create sub accounts to share access with fellow relatives or friends.

Here are some of the “best” comments on this situation from thestarpress.com Facebook page:

they already make money from the advertisements. Now the people that pay for those advertisements will not reach any where near the audience they did before. So the SP and their parent company will probably end up loosing money because if the Business are smart, they will realize that their adds are not reaching many people now.

Many are pretending to have insight on newspaper budgets. The individual above seems to forget the difference between receiving money and making a profit. The Star Press receives money for online advertisements, but it is not enough to cover web expenses and make a profit.

Other people are pretending to be experts in on what it takes to get a daily newspaper online and Facebook Terms of Service:

Perhaps you should read the terms of service for Facebook and make sure what you’re doing with your links is in compliance with the rules. I’d bet my pay check it isn’t. I have to pay for advertise my products through them, you should too

Someone should take that bet. Facebook’s Terms of Service has no such prohibition, nor is there any such stipulation in the advertising guidelines. Many businesses post links on their pages to products and services.

Facebook profile picture
Hint: Combining the international symbol for “no” with the word “free” means one is against free.

A few people are so annoyed that have created Facebook groups and pages in hopes of getting The Star Press to change the policy.  I’m amused by a profile picture from one of the groups. To quote a line from The Princess Bride, “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

I could go on with quoting more silly comments, but I chose not to spread ignorance.

Some commentators have expressed concerns about how advertisers are going to pull their online ads because traffic will now diminish. In reality, advertisers look for targeted, niche audiences. It’s not exposure they are seeking, it is an audience. If a person cannot spend $10 a month to read an online newspaper, I suspect that individual is not an ideal audience for any online advertiser. Those that subscribe have demonstrated — to some effect — that they have disposable income, are relatively interested in their local community and live in the area. That should get advertiser’s attention.

Sure, The Star Press could have done a better job of handling this change. A FAQ page and answering some common questions/clarifying the misinformation on the Facebook page would help. The business model could be tweaked. Some ideas:

  • Advertisers (including classifieds) should get free for specified amount of time.
  • The price should include unlimited access to the archives.
  • The price and login should work with all Indiana Gannett newspapers (Indy Star, Richmond Palladium-Item, Journal and Courier).
  • An option should be offered for daily and per article access. People could set up an account and use micropayments to view an article, say like 5 cents an article.
  • Charge people to comment on the articles. The Star Press could make a mint from some of the most prolific posters. And if they stop posting, it’s a win/win.
  • Add anniversaries, engagements and classifieds to the free areas. Obituaries, the home page, index pages and the wire pages are all free.
  • Increase the free view limit to 15 a month.

In the end, the free ride is over, folks, and this should be no shock. We have known that newspapers have struggled for years. Advertising and subscriptions have dwindled. There are more competing news sources. Expenses (people, ink, paper, fuel) have increased. The industry has done a ton of cost cutting, but now it is looking to raise revenue with its core product. Some may not find value for the trivial cost being charged, citing quality concerns. Keep in mind, thought, that giving a product away for free on a daily basis often results in lower quality and the company going out of business. Want better quality? Put your money where your Facebook post is.

Funny Internet saying.

Published by Scott Davis

Former newspaper journalist, now government webmaster. Life-long geek.