When the San Francisco Chronicle said that it was demolishing its news paywall in August, we wondered whether it might be the beginning of a paywall rollback trend. Now a second metro newspaper has decided to go the same route: the Dallas Morning News announced that its news content will once again be free to all web visitors starting on Tuesday, October 1.
Much like the SF Chronicle, the Dallas newspaper said it will continue to offer a premium service to paying readers, and it hopes to add more unique features to that service in the future, such as customization and access to events.
Not enough interest in digital subscriptions
In a comment to a reporter from the Morning News, the chief marketing officer for the paper — which is owned by A.H. Belo Corp. — was fairly blunt in his assessment of the paywall’s benefits, or lack thereof. Unlike successful paywalls at newspapers like the New York Times, the one at the Morning News didn’t generate much return, CMO Jason Dyer said:
“The pay wall solution hasn’t worked. The pay wall didn’t create a massive groundswell of [digital] subscribers.”
So what Morning News readers who decide to pay $11.96 per month will get access to instead is an “image-oriented, collage-style display” of the news — one that appears to be inspired by tablet-based content offerings such as Flipboard or Pulse, and is also similar to the new site Topicly that was recently launched by the Washington Post (although it is free).
The Morning News paid site will also have fewer ads, the newspaper said. According to publisher Jim Moroney:
“In the first quarter of 2011, we became one of the first daily newspapers to ask consumers to pay for the content we distributed digitally. Now, we are going to experiment with another approach.”
Readers don’t want to pay for news online
Moroney said that research the newspaper did with print subscribers showed that what readers were willing to pay for wasn’t the actual content itself, but the method of delivery — that is, the printed newspaper. When offered the exact same content online for a price that was 90-percent less than the average print subscription rate, only five percent of readers said they were interested.
“What we concluded from this research was that subscribers were not paying for the content, so much as paying for how they wanted to consume the content we published. They were paying for a print experience. Now, we want to see if there are sufficient consumers who will pay for a premium digital experience.”
The Morning News says that in addition to a more visual browsing experience, readers who pay for the premium content will eventually be able to personalize the content they receive and will also have access to a “loyalty program” of some kind that could include access to events and tickets to baseball games. Early responses to the new strategy were not kind, however:
My rough early estimate for how many people will pay for the DMN’s “premium” visual version of the same stories is 0 http://t.co/U5ZZWk3c4e
— Joshua Benton (@jbenton) September 30, 2013
This post was updated to reflect the fact that the premium version of the Morning News doesn’t include extra content but only premium features or services.
Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Shutterstock / flyinglife