Free no more: Pay walls go up online for three Gannett newspapers

Three Gannett newspapers recently debuted pay walls, including one close to WNC — the Tallahassee Democrat, The Greenville (S.C.) News and The (St. George, Utah) Spectrum. Pay walls block free access to a publication, requiring viewers to pay first, read later. Is the Asheville Citizen-Times next?

The move is a “small-scale test,” according to Bill Mitchell, a former newspaper editor and now a faculty member of the Poynter Institute (a St. Petersburg, Fl., based school for journalists). Mitchell, who blogs about trends in journalism, mentions a conversation he had with Kate Marymont, vice president of news for Gannett’s Community Publishing Division. Marymont told him, “We want to test the idea that our journalism is more of a service than a product, and that we should give readers a selection of delivery methods.”

Mitchell also chatted with Bob Gabordi, a former Citizen-Times editor who’s now the executive editor for the Tallahassee newspaper. The Florida publication’s pay wall went up July 1, charging visitors $9.95 per month or $2 for a day pass. Print subscribers — who already pay for home delivery — simply have to create an online account to get past the pay wall.

After providing some details about the Gannett “test,” Mitchell concludes:
At first glance from afar, the three pay walls in question appear more like blunt instruments than nuanced lab experiments.

Gabordi …  told readers this week that the site generated 14 million page views in June, a number certain to drop as a result of the all-or-nothing pay wall.

A screen grab about the move also notes, a bit ironically, “The article explaining the pay wall in St. George is now behind the pay wall.”

For Mitchell’s full blog, visit Poynter Online.

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About Margaret Williams
Managing Editor Margaret Williams has been at Xpress since 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987.

18 thoughts on “Free no more: Pay walls go up online for three Gannett newspapers

  1. It’s not a matter of paying to read a paper, it’s a matter of paying to have advertising access to the audience. Putting up a paywall is a great way to lose that audience, and to make yourself that much less attractive to advertisers. It would be one thing if they were selling an exclusive product, but they’re mostly running wire stories you can get for free anywhere online. I suspect this is going to be a very tough sell for Gannett.

  2. The Trolls Troll

    No, Travelah, I don’t suspect anyone would pay to read Mountain Xpress. It would be one thing if they were selling an exclusive product, but they’re mostly running press releases from the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau you can get for free at exploreasheville.com/press-room/index.aspx.

  3. Margaret Williams

    There seems to be a trend toward pay walls, or least talk of doing them. A few years ago, The New York Times gave it a go, saw some revenue from it, then the revenue flattened out. Now there’s talk they’ll try it again. The thinking seems to be this is a way to gain lost revenues or to somehow stem the tide toward the flow of free and/or cheap information the Internet.

    Will it work?

  4. Margaret Williams

    P.S. Mr. Smug: Xpress has never charged for its newspaper.

  5. Mr. Smug: Xpress isn’t running press releases, and never has to the best of my knowledge. With the exception of the calendar content, it’s all originally researched and written. Some story ideas may come from press releases for timely events and news, of course, but if it has a byline, it’s original, exclusive content.

  6. Margaret Williams

    Mmm, actually we must confess that quite a few press-release-level items run on our “blogwire” feed online. But then, that’s part of the mission of that online-only section, to aggregate news from a variety of sources. Blogwire is open to citizen journalists, as well as local nonprofits and other organizations (but we avoid running commercial notices).

    In any case, would ANYone pay for what they’re already receiving for free? and if a source does erect a pay wall, will readers/viewers go somewhere else?

  7. Fair enough, although Blogwire is clearly marked as an aggregator, and it doesn’t feed into the main content of the site.

    Smug: Can you clarify what you were talking about when you mentioned Xpress running press releases? Were you referring to Blogwire, or is the impression you have of the Xpress that it runs press releases for content in general?

  8. Ken Hanke

    One might feel free to wonder why Mr. Smug reads the Xpress at all if everythig appears elsewhere.

  9. Pay for online news? Not me. The AC-T should look toward crowd-sourcing some of their content. This is one of the strong points of Mtn Xpress.

  10. Dionysis

    “Journalism” in the same paragraph as a Gannett ‘newspaper’? Too funny. Yeah, go ahead and start trying to charge people to read that fish wrapper. That would be an interesting exercise.

  11. LOKEL

    I currently do not pay for the Citizen-Times in paper format and I sure as heck won’t pay for the “online content” if that were to start … there are plenty of alternatives to the CT online for “news” …

  12. JWTJr

    The newspapers are way behind the 8 ball and don’t seem to be too interested in a modern solution. The pay wall will be another nail in the coffin of their out-dated business model.

  13. pff

    So, they want me to pay to read the exact same AP release i can read a thousand other places on the net?

    It’s fun to watch the dinosaurs desperately try and evolve wings and feathers and hollow bones by sheer will

  14. Ken Hanke

    We’ve said for awhile that increasingly we’ll move content from the print (and now iPad) versions of our titles off of the web. With People, we haven’t had hardly any content from the magazine on the web for a long time.

    The barbaric assault on English evidenced in that statement makes me wonder why anyone would want to read Time.

    By the bye, if Gannett puts up this pay thingie for the AC-T will that mean that people will have to cough up money to say slanderous things on the Topix forums?

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