The Daily Herald will become the first newspaper in the Chicago area to charge regularly for digital access, the company announced today in letters to its readers.
"It is our intention that no one without a subscription will have ongoing access to the Daily Herald newspaper content, dailyherald.com or any other Daily Herald digital platform," said Douglas K. Ray, chairman, publisher and CEO of Paddock Publications, which operates the suburban newspaper.
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"Why is it necessary to charge for digital access?" Ray asked in a staff memo. "We invest significantly in reporters and editors and an infrastructure that provides tailored coverage of local news, suburban business developments, politics and entertainment as well as sports from the pro levels to preps. We believe that what we do has value to our readers and to the community. A new payment structure will enable us to continue to provide the kind of quality local news and the journalism expected from the Daily Herald."
In making the announcement, Ray also outlined details of a Subscriber Total Access package that will give print subscribers access to Daily Herald content on all digital platforms at a discounted $1-per-week rate, compared to a $19.99 30-day fee that will be charged to digital-only subscribers.
As part of the initiative, the newspaper is introducing an array of new digital products -- an iPad application, improvements in its smartphone apps, an app for Android tablet applications due out later in the fall, e-edition replicas of the print newspaper and an electronic newsletter with afternoon headline alerts. Subscriber Total Access members will have complete access to those platforms in addition to the dailyherald.com website. They also will have opportunities to participate in a number of Daily Herald events involving newspaper columnists, reporters, editors and other experts, the company said.
Ray said a number of digital-only features will be added to dailyherald.com and most related digital platforms. Among them are new video features, new blogs, changes in online commenting to create a more civil environment, more interactivity with the audience and opportunities for Subscriber Total Access members to get behind-the-scenes views of the newsroom.
The new policy will take effect Sept. 7. Non-subscribers will be allowed a small number of free page views of content each 30-day period to sample dailyherald.com before access to the site is restricted. This policy will apply to most content, the company said, but some features will be categorized as premium content and restricted altogether.
"As many newspapers are starting to understand, we cannot afford to give away our content any longer online," Ray said. "The reason is simple, unavoidable economics. Newspapers all over the country are realizing that they cannot rely solely on the income from advertisers to create and sustain the kind of journalism the community deserves, as new media have taken an increasingly larger slice of the available marketing dollars."
In making the change, the Daily Herald joins a growing list of newspapers that have begun charging for digital content or are considering doing so. Recently, Media News based in Denver announced that 23 of its newspapers will go to a paid-digital subscription model. Lee Newspapers announced early this month that six of its newspapers will adopt a similar approach. Gannett is experimenting with paid content at several of its newspapers.
The New York Times has been the most prominent newspaper to charge for digital access, and recent reports indicate it has 1 million paying digital subscribers.
With the exception of The New York Times, Dallas Morning News and a few others, however, most newspapers charging for digital content are in smaller, non-competitive markets, which makes the Daily Herald venture, in Ray's words, "a bold move."
"We feel we will be successful, in large part, because of the Daily Herald's pre-eminent market position in the suburbs, our strong brand loyalty and unique content exemplified every day through the quality suburban journalism we do," he said. "And we also believe being first to market in Chicago is another example of journalistic leadership that has always exemplified Paddock Publications and the Daily Herald. It is a declaration of strength, not simply a 'me too.'"