Sun-Times to start charging for websites

  • Calvin Harden sells the Chicago Sun-Times in downtown Chicago. On Tuesday, the Chicago Sun-Times said it would start asking readers to pay for online content.

    Calvin Harden sells the Chicago Sun-Times in downtown Chicago. On Tuesday, the Chicago Sun-Times said it would start asking readers to pay for online content. Associated Press file photo

 
 
Updated 12/7/2011 6:08 AM

Online newspaper subscriptions gained traction Tuesday in the Chicago and suburban market when Sun-Times Media said it will ask readers to start paying for online content later this week.

Sun-Times Media CEO Jeremy Halbreich said in a memo to employees that the company will begin "metering" its websites, meaning web readers will be asked to buy an online subscription after they've read a set number of pages on Sun-Times Media newspaper sites. Besides the Chicago Sun-Times, those included in the pay system are the Beacon-News (Aurora), The Courier-News (Elgin), The Herald-News (Joliet), Lake County News-Sun (Gurnee), Post-Tribune (Merrillville, Ind.) and the SouthtownStar (Chicago Heights).

 

"Quality journalism is not free," Halbreich said in the memo. "We are committed to producing the best locally focused news and feature stories in the region, and will continuously develop appropriate business models to support our journalism into the future. This move is just one of many digital initiatives currently under way, including the very successful launch of our Chicago Sun-Times tablet and mobile apps, along with our e-Paper and e-Reader programs."

The Sun-Times follows the Daily Herald, which started its pay initiative in early September. Several newspapers nationwide, including The New York Times, charge readers for online content or offer combination packages for both print and online products.

"Being first in the Chicago market, which I consider the most competitive newspaper market in the United States, was a bold move but one that was necessary to maintain the commitment to journalistic excellence of which the Daily Herald has always been known," said Doug Ray, publisher and CEO of Paddock Publications, owner of the Daily Herald, Reflejos and Daily Herald Business Ledger. "We clearly staked out our position that content can no longer be free and that Daily Herald journalism has value."

Ray said a significant number of subscribers have agreed by becoming a part of the Daily Herald Subscriber Total Access program, which includes digital access to Daily Herald content through a variety of platforms, in print and digitally. It also gives subscribers ongoing access to special events and direct access to reporters and editors. A daily email afternoon news alert and early-morning digital updates are a part of the Subscriber Total Access package, Ray said.

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"We are very pleased at the level of acceptance midway through the subscriber billing cycle and intend to utilize this additional revenue to improve our products and the journalism we do," Ray said. "More aggressive marketing to online-only subscribers will take place early next year, and we expect widespread acceptance through that digital venue as well."

Such transitions to online pay systems are gaining attention of publishers of all sizes nationwide, said John Morton, president and media consultant with Morton Research Inc. in Jessup, Md.

"It's the key to the future," Morton said. "But all of this is in its infancy. We don't know what the long-term reaction will be. We don't know the effect on page views or advertising revenues. We'll gradually find that out."

Under the Sun-Times initiative, website users will be allowed up to 20 free page views from all Sun-Times Media newspaper sites every 30 days. If a reader accesses more than 20 pages during any 30-day period, he or she will be asked to sign up for a minimum four-week online subscription.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Subscribers to the print newspapers will be able to purchase an online subscription at $1.99 for four weeks, while digital-only subscribers will be charged $6.99 for four weeks. There will also be a discount for digital-only subscribers who agree to pay for a full year's online subscription, the memo said.

"We recently installed a new centralized, editorial content system that places all of our publications on the same platform," said Halbreich. "The system comes with the technology and capability to implement the metering. We would have done it earlier if we had had the opportunity."

Select portions of the Sun-Times web network will not be metered and thus will continue to be available for unlimited access, Halbreich said.

Those areas include all home pages, index pages, classified advertising-focused sections (ToDrive, SearchChicago Homes), and advertorial sections. Pages requiring an online subscription after reaching the 20-page limit include most editorially produced articles, such as news, sports, lifestyles, and so on, along with YourSeason.com, horoscopes, puzzles, photo galleries, blogs and other content, the memo said.

As of now, mobile sites and news apps also are exempt from the online subscription requirement, the memo said.

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