Just this week we received a message via Facebook from a reader in California who expressed what sounded like disbelief that The East Hampton Star had begun to ask frequent visitors to its Web site to buy an online subscription.
This occasional reader said he lived on the West Coast and picked up a copy of the paper when he visited here in the summer. “I like to keep up with the local news,” he wrote. “Is it really true that you now want me to pay for an on-line subscription?”
It is a good question. Here is an answer.
Those who see this newspaper only in its print edition are probably not aware that, after more than 16 years of giving content away free on the Web, we recently began charging for online access. The Star went online in 1996 with just a handful of stories a week from each print section. A little over a decade later, we began putting nearly everything on the Web each week. In 2010, we went to more or less full content online in a new, cleaner design.
As readers may well imagine, the cost of putting out almost any kind of publication is substantial. In the case of a year-round news organization in a resort area, like ours, which has a handful of lucrative months then a long period of slow sales, we must pay staff and other costs all year long because the news doesn’t take the winter off. Paying for coverage, editing, electricity, heat, and so on has become an increasing challenge.
In this era of declining revenue from traditional sources, notably print subscriptions and classified ads, newspapers have been experimenting with charging for online access, among other sources of revenue. This winter, after extended consideration, we decided to try something new. Late last month, we followed the lead of many other newspapers and started a “metered” paywall at easthamptonstar.com. Those readers who visit eight or more Web pages on our site in a month are asked to buy an online subscription to continue. (Print subscribers receive full online access without extra charge.)
There are, of course, free sources of news, and one could find work-arounds to avoid paywalls. But we believe that most readers will be willing to pay to support quality journalism — as they have through the print subscription model for a very long time, dating perhaps back to the 18th century, when books were sold this way.
Anything on the Web is a work in progress, however, and reader feedback is appreciated.