How Big An Obstacle Is The Star Tribune’s Paywall?

November 18, 2011


Is the Star Tribune alienating some of its most dedicated readers? If you consider me a dedicated reader, the answer is yes. I get the Sunday paper, StarTribune.com is set as my homepage and I routinely get my news on the site throughout the day. We’ll, that was the case until Nov. 3 anyway.

The Strib made the strategic business decision to institute a subscription system for its online version, meaning readers can view up to 20 articles for free each month before hitting a “paywall” and being blocked from content. It took me two days to reach that limit, but I still haven’t subscribed. I suspect I’m not the only one.

For those who don’t subscribe to the print edition, online access will cost $.99 per week during a 10-week introductory period. Sunday-only subscribers can add online for $.29 per week. Those prices will go up after the introductory period, but the Strib hasn’t announced how high yet.

I don’t blame the newspaper for trying a pay model to help a business that’s been struggling for years. And frankly, if newspapers would’ve had the foresight to charge for online editions when they first launched, we wouldn’t think twice about paying in 2011. But as it stands, it feels like a takeaway.

I guess the fact that I haven’t taken action is part stubbornness and part laziness, but the biggest factor has been the many free alternatives. The Star Tribune needs to make its content irreplaceable for this model to work. That’s why The New York Times can get away with it — the writing is second to none.

If I want local sports coverage, 1500ESPN.com is doing a very good job — including regular contributions from current and former Strib veterans Patrick Reusse and Judd Zulgad. There’s CityPages.com for local entertainment news. Of course, there’s always the St. Paul Pioneer Press online. There’s plenty of good stuff coming from MinnPost and countless other sites. And if I absolutely have to read a Star Tribune article, I’ve been doing it on my iPhone or home computer.

Ultimately, it’s part of my job to keep up with the local news, so I’ll bite the bullet and become a digital Star Tribune subscriber. But the last few weeks have proven that I could live without it. And I wonder how many others feel the same.

Someday we may look at the Strib as a trailblazer in helping save daily newspapers, but I think it’s just as likely they’ll end up doing even more damage to their business. What do you think — is this a smart move? Will you pay?