Grand Junction newspaper ends free online edition
October 4, 2010
DENVER – The Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction, the largest daily newspaper on the Western Slope, has begun charging nonsubscribers for access to its online version as it tries to stop paid subscribers from migrating to the Internet to get it for free.
The newspaper Monday became the first major daily in Colorado to begin charging for its online content as it and the industry struggle with a decline in paid circulation and a drop in advertising revenue.
In an article last week advising readers of the change, Publisher Jay Seaton said the newspaper industry erred by offering its content for free as the Internet took off in the 1990s.
“We all got it wrong,” Seaton wrote.
Many parts of the Daily Sentinel – breaking news, stories concerning public safety, death notices – will remain online for free. But nonsubscribers wishing to read stories produced by reporters in the 26,000 weekday circulation newspaper’s newsroom would have to pay up to $140.40 for a year’s subscription. A 24-hour subscription costs $2.
“It really devalues your content when you give it away for free,” Seaton said in an interview with The Associated Press.
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The Sentinel is owned by a subsidiary of Manhattan, Kan.-based Seaton Publishing Co. Seaton said other Seaton-owned dailies have fared well and have expanded online advertising sales after switching to paid online subscriptions, including the Manhattan Mercury in Kansas and The Black Hills Pioneer out of Spearfish, N.D.
Another Seaton-owned publication, The Sheridan Press in Wyoming, never offered its online content for free, Seaton said.
Among the top 25 biggest U.S. newspapers, The Wall Street Journal and Long Island’s Newsday charge readers to view articles on the Web. The New York Times is planning to limit the number of online articles readers can access without paying, beginning early next year.
The Boston Globe last week announced it will create a paid online site and limit the content on its free site, Boston.com.
While dozens of community newspapers across the country charge for their online content, at least one community newspaper, the Guadalupe County Communicator in Santa Rosa, N.M., has pulled the plug on its online version. Communicator Publisher M.E. Sprengelmeyer, a former Washington correspondent for the now-closed Rocky Mountain News, said he couldn’t figure out how its online edition could make money.
“It might be able to generate a few clicks, but if those clicks are outside your local area, what good is that to your local advertiser?” Sprengelmeyer said.
Sprengelmeyer said his print version offers readers of his 2,200-circulation weekly political cartoons, world-class photography and guest articles from residents of the 2,700 population town that’s not available anywhere else locally.
Still, industry observers warn that shutting off online readers by charging for content or ending online editions might not be a good idea in the long run. Readers increasingly get their news delivered through smart-phones, computer tablets or other electronic gadgets.
“It wasn’t always narrative journalism that was paying the bills,” said Damon Kiesow, of Poynter.org. “You had comics, classifieds, Dear Abby. Most of it has been taken away online. Now you have Craigslist, Amazon and all these websites that have a piece of the newspaper community.
“I’m not sure (that charging for online content) is going to create revenue or protect print circulation in the long term.”