The time has come. Two of the regional papers I read online daily have finally gone to subscription-only access. Sigh. We knew the free news access had to end at some time as people ended print subscriptions in lieu of reading online for free. I fully understand why newspapers need to charge for access to their product. The question for me now becomes how much am I willing to pay for that access? I'm kind of a news junkie. Can I really live with not being able to read my local papers?
So far, I have not been impressed with the roll-out of digital subscriptions on either paper. One gave plenty of notice, but offers a subscription package that is offensive. The Topeka paper is offering a digital only subscription for $15 a month. But a print + digital subscription is only $12.50 a month. In my view, this is completely unacceptable. The environmental waste alone enrages me. I haven't subscribed to a print paper for years because I do not want the waste of that daily paper, the energy used to create it and the paper itself. Even with recycling, you can't undo that environmental impact. So the idea that I would have to pay more to avoid having that waste means there is no way I will pay for a digital subscription until they change this policy. I have communicated with the publisher about this and received an answer that was befuddling in its obtuseness. It's 2013, people. (Also, I find it utterly bizarre that one can't even view the "contact us" page on the website without a subscription!) The publisher swore to me that they offered a la carte pricing, but I have yet to see that option. Finally, the paper says it gives people access to 10 free articles per month, but I'm unclear when that resets as I still can't access any articles today, at the start of a new month. So far, not impressed with the Topeka paper and not willing to subscribe.
Then this morning, I went to check out the Kansas City paper. Read an article. Then I went to read a second article and with absolutely no warning, got a "you must subscribe" message. Oy. The notice thing is what I'm irked about here, because it seems if you've been offering a service for free for years, you might want to give people a little notice, a transition period if you will. At least their subscription package is (marginally) better than the Topeka paper's as it's only $10 a month, with the first month at only $1.
I honestly don't remember how much a paper subscription costs, so maybe my pricing notions are off, but $10 a month still seems like a lot. I just don't read that much of the paper. I read the political and crime stories, with a few sports stories on the side. I do not read 100% of the paper, or even 50%. I don't like the idea of paying for a whole lot of stuff I will never use. But I'm also not in the newspaper business and have no idea what their costs are and how much they need to charge to cover them. Somehow, though, it seems like the digital age is a prime opportunity for newspapers to expand their subscriber base if they could come up with more creative pricing strategies. How about offering a lower price for access to, say, 50 articles a month? I bet on both the Topeka and Kansas City papers, that's about what I average. I bet I would willingly pay up to $5 per month for that. I bet a lot of people would pay for that kind of access at a lower price as opposed to the whole kit and kaboodle for $10-15 a month.
My main hesitation at subscribing to either of these papers right now is that my truly local paper is still fully free online. I would not hesitate to subscribe to that one, as it's the one I read the most frequently. I doubt I would balk at paying $10 a month for that one. Until I know whether I will have to subscribe to that paper, I am reluctant to commit to either of the other two that I rely on less. Especially with the feeling that I won't really be using all that I pay for.
I think this transition from free online news access to subscription services will be fascinating to watch unfold. It's uncharted territory for everyone. Newspapers don't have anyone but themselves to blame for online readers balking at paying $10 a month for something they have freely accessed for years. Over a decade in some cases. I fear they may be shooting themselves in the foot by starting paid subscriptions at such high prices. Ease people in, folks. I really don't object to paying you for the service. You're just not convincing me with the prices you're charging so out of the blue. Somewhere there has to be a sweet spot, a perfect pricing plan that gets people to pony up without complaint and lets newspapers keep the lights on. I really hope that sweet spot is less than $10 a month per paper.
What say you? How much would you pay for online news access? Especially to a newspaper you've gotten used to reading for free?