Tribune moves toward paywall
The Chicago Tribune said Tuesday it expects to initiate a paid subscription for certain online content after a redesigned website is introduced later this week.
Tribune readers will be asked to register, especially if they plan to read columnists, reviews, investigative pieces and other special content. Registration is free and no fees are expected to be charged at this time, the company said online.
But it is expected to lead executives to examine the strategy further before erecting a paywall and charging a fee later. No timetable was released.
"In exchange for the new and exclusive content, we will be asking them to simply register through chicagotribune.com free of charge," said company spokeswoman Maggie Wartik. "If readers choose not to register, they can continue to enjoy our core and breaking news content, as is."
"We expect to eventually charge for some level of premium content and are looking at several options, but we want user feedback to help shape our next steps," the Chicago Tribune quoted Bill Adee, its vice president for digital development and operations, as saying in a memo to employees Tuesday.
The digital subscription strategy isn't new.
The Daily Herald was the first in the Chicago and suburban market last September to reserve some online content exclusively for subscribers, as well as special events and other benefits. The Chicago Sun-Times followed last December.
Numerous newspapers nationwide, including The New York Times, charge readers for online content or offer combination packages for both print and online products.
Douglas Ray, publisher and CEO of Arlington Heights-based Paddock Publications Inc., owner of the Daily Herald, Reflejos and the Daily Herald Business Ledger, said the Chicago and suburban market is one of the most competitive in the nation and a media company must maintain a commitment to journalistic excellence.
"As we had expected, the Tribune will join newspapers large and small in incorporating a paid content model into their strategy to grow the business into the future," Ray said. "It is an inevitable change that virtually all newspaper publishers are discovering, as newspapers transform themselves from an almost entirely advertising supported model to a paid readership and viewership model relying increasingly more on subscriptions."
In order to sustain the journalism that is at the heart of this business, the reader will be asked to pay somewhat more, Ray said.
"Our readers understand that and have supported us in print and online through their subscription payments and the Daily Herald Subscriber Total Access program," Ray said. "But keep in mind that there is no single solution and newspaper companies are experimenting with a variety of paid content initiatives. The Tribune may end up with a scenario different from ours and the Sun-Times, and that seems to me to be healthy for the market, giving readers choices regarding what they will pay for and giving us all direction on what is important to them."
Such strategies will help media companies focus on what the customer wants and is willing to pay for, Ray said.
"While these are challenging times for the newspaper industry, I believe the Daily Herald is in an enviable position, because our local content and suburban brand are differentiated from others in the Chicago area," Ray said. "Time will tell how the others will fare."
The Daily Herald's subscription program, called Daily Herald Subscriber Total Access, includes access to Daily Herald content through a variety of platforms in print and digitally. It also includes special events, news alerts and more.
The Tribune said its relaunched site will have navigation features and will link Facebook comments to a user's social profile. Other new content is expected to include The Economist and Forbes.
"The timetable is completely TBD," said Wartik. "We won't know about the next phase until we get our hands dirty with this one."
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