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Colorado Newspapers Begin Embracing Online Paywalls

Erin O'Toole

Newspapers across the country are implementing online paywalls in an attempt to counter declining circulation. Now that trend is expanding along the Front Range in a big way.

Digital First Media manages MediaNews Group, which owns a number of local publications including The Denver Post. The company made headlines this week when it announced it would be erecting a paywall for online access.

"This will not be what’s called a hard paywall, where no content is free," says Boulder County Business Reportpublisher Chris Wood. "What they’re implementing is a metered model that will allow non-subscribers to read 25 articles for free per month via desktop devices, or 99 articles via mobile devices. But after that, they will have to pay $11.99 per month."

Digital First is the second-largest newspaper chain in the country, and Wood says the new metered paywall model is slated to take effect Dec. 2 at all but one of its 75 daily newspapers. The exact pricing and number of free articles readers can access hasn’t yet been revealed.

Interview highlights

Declining circulation and advertising aren’t exactly new, why implement this change now?

"A lot of newspapers have resisted this change. Publishers thought for years that if they went to a subscription model online, that their traffic would plummet and they would lose online advertisers as a result. But print readership at many papers has continued to decline, and newspaper companies across the country are exploring different pay-wall models.

I should point out that one of the most ardent opponents of paywalls has been Digital First CEO John Paton. But even he has come around, saying in a blog post that the company needs more gas in the tank if it’s going to complete the journey from print to digital."

MediaNews owns many publications, which ones are affected by this change?

"Digital First is the second-largest newspaper chain in the country, and this new metered model will be implemented at all but one of its 75 daily newspapers. Locally, you’ll see it at the Boulder Daily Camera, the Longmont Times-Call and the Loveland Reporter-Herald. The pricing for those publications might be slightly different, and how many free articles readers can access hasn’t yet been revealed.

I should point out that these papers will follow the Fort Collins Coloradoan, owned by Gannett, and the Greeley Tribune, owned by Swift newspapers. Both of those publications already have paywalls."

Many people -- including reporters -- don’t like them. Are paywalls really the answer?

"An increasing number of publishers seem to think so. The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post have embraced them. The Financial Times has been particularly successful with its model.

But just when you think the tide has turned, some publications go back in the other direction. You can read about a lot of these changes at a very depressing website called newspaperdeathwatch.com, which a few months ago reported that the San Francisco Chronicle and the Dallas Morning News were removing their paywalls.

So when it comes to paywalls, what goes up might come down."

What about the Business Report? Are you considering a paywall?

"Funny you should ask... We also are exploring metered paywalls at our three business journals in Boulder, Northern Colorado and Wyoming. Nothing’s been decided yet, but stay tuned."

As the host of KUNC’s new program and podcast In the NoCo, I work closely with our producers and reporters to bring context and diverse perspectives to the important issues of the day. Northern Colorado is such a diverse and growing region, brimming with history, culture, music, education, civic engagement, and amazing outdoor recreation. I love finding the stories and voices that reflect what makes NoCo such an extraordinary place to live.
Boulder County Business Report publisher Chris Wood helped create the Northern Colorado Business Report in 1995. He previously served as managing editor of the Denver Business Journal. Chris discusses regional business and economic issues in Boulder County every other Thursday at 5:35 and 7:35 during Morning Edition.
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