to Stay Free

June 19, 2014 - 8:17am Updated: June 19, 2014 - 12:09pm

by: Karl Johnston, Publisher

Yesterday, you could catch up on local news and happenings for free at AND the website of the Prince Albert Daily Herald. Today, the Herald is making you pay after imposing a paywall for online readers. The free ride is over for Herald readers.

Here, at no news is good news: paNOW will stay free.

The problem for traditional brick and mortar newspaper publishers is rapidly declining readership. In Prince Albert daily circulation is down 40% in the past decade to about 5000 a day. It’s not that the paper has changed all that much but the readers have. Today’s younger readers – and by ‘younger’ I mean under 50 - prefer to consume their information now and online not yesterday and in print. Traditional newspaper readership has simply moved on.

Some canceled delivery of the printed paper having figured out they can read the same news on the newspaper website for free. The introduction of a paywall at the Herald is an effort to plug that revenue leak. Starting today, Herald readers can go online and read just 6 articles or view 6 pictures for free a month. Once the limit is hit access is denied you will be asked to sign up for a $13 monthly subscription to receive unlimited online access.

Declining paid circulation, the loss of local and national advertising and the nearly complete evaporation of classified revenue to free sites like Kijiji and paNOW has left printed papers with few options but to cut pages, staff and impose new fees and charges in a desperate bid to make ends meet.

Buying newsprint, running printing presses, trucks and door to door delivery doesn’t come cheap whether you print 5000 papers or 9000 papers. The paywall announcement is not a surprise; the Herald was one of the last papers owned by Transcontinental Media to put their online offerings behind a paywall in an effort to protect the printed paper.
The good news for Prince Albert (of course we think its good news) is readers have a choice.

Unlike many communities solely dependent on a local newspaper for news we foresaw the audience shift away from the printed paper to online and stepped in to fill the void. While the newspaper simply reposted stories from the printed paper, we doubled the size of our newsroom and created the largest, most experienced news gathering team in the city and then went about replicating all the best features of the newspaper from obituaries to classifieds while focusing on breaking news that a once a day printed paper can’t match.

We created unique content in an online newspaper format rather than skimping and recycling material from our radio newscasts. Unburdened of the cost of printing papers and trucking them to market, we were able to put this new ‘paper’ online where all the content is FREE and supported by advertising.

Three and a half years in I’m often asked ‘has it worked?’ Well, like they say, numbers don’t lie. In the past month paNOW has recorded nearly 27,000 visits a day. This past Monday – a heavy news day - we were visited 68,000 times. The audience of paNOW is ever growing. Meanwhile, readership at the Herald website has languished. Only last week the Herald ran an ad noting average daily visits of ‘nearly 800’. Imposing a paywall on readers is unlikely to improve that number, not when there’s a viable alternative in paNOW.

In a prepared statement the Herald told readers the paywall is needed because ‘great news coverage is a costly thing to produce’. On that point we agree. However, we disagree on how to pay for it. By creating a distinct online product, paNOW has attracted a large audience. We are then able to offer these ‘eyeballs’ to local advertisers always eager to connect with local consumers.

Today, paNOW is completely advertiser supported and successful. Each day more than 70 advertisers choose to use paNOW to reach the community. We built it with the readers in mind. Once they came the advertisers followed.

paNOW will continue to grow and prosper as an ad-supported ‘free’ online newspaper. Today’s announcement by our friends down the street (likely forced upon them by head office without regard to the existence of a free local competitor) likely means paNOW’s growth will only accelerate. Only time will tell if people will pay for a product that for the most part is free a click away. online, on demand and will stay totally free, the way your newspaper should be.

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