The Dallas Morning News has just launched a paywall on its website, Dallasnews.com. Newspaper subscribers can sign in and continue to access all content free, but non-subscribers will now have to pay. The paper has redesigned its website, and launched new applications for iPhone and iPad.
The price for someone outside Dallas is $3.91 for a publication that bundles online access, iPhone and iPad apps, or $2.31 a week for one of any of the above.
From now on, some content is allocated specifically as subscriber content and is marked as such with a symbol. This is "premium content written by our journalists specifically for subscribers," the paper said.
"We are boldly going where others have yet to go," said an email from publisher Jim Moroney to staff, published by Mike Orren on his blog. The reason is "straightforward," he continued: "online advertising rates are insufficient at the scale of traffic generated by metro newspaper websites to support the businesses they operate. We need to find additional and meaningful sources of revenue to sustain our profitability as we journey further into the digital marketplace."
"Local newspaper websites are never going to scale to page view levels that make the math work," he said. "The volume of traffic to these sites is inherently limited by the geographic nature of the content they published."
He specified that The Dallas Morning News generates 37% of its printed newspaper revenue directly from consumers, meaning that the paper is less reliant on its declining advertising revenue. The paper is one of the highest-priced in the country, second only to the Boston Globe, after Moroney decided towards the end of 2009 to increase coverage, hire journalists and raise prices rather than continuing to make cuts.
Given that the thought behind this strategy was to create a premium product that would be worth paying for, the decision to start charging online seems a logical development.
The website redesign includes more emphasis on breaking news and photos, simplified navigation and an improved search function. The site also includes new lifestyle, entertainment and local news blogs. It has "bigger and better" slideshows and videos and many of these are now embedded in their respective stories.
The iPad app is viewable in portrait or landscape, has breaking news alerts, colour-coded sections, adjustable text size, various different navigation modes depending on where the user is in the app, a share feature to email, Facebook or Twitter and a last-updated time stamp.
The iPhone app has a customizable homepage, some of the same features as the iPad app such as breaking news alerts and colour-coding, and features slideshows and videos.
The digital versions will be updated at least three times a day, according to a letter to readers from publisher Jim Moroney.
Will this paid online content strategy work? Orren, a media consultant, said that the registration process which the Dallas Morning News now requires online means that it is being bypassed by Google and Google News, so may have fewer casual readers, even to the articles that remain free.
A good deal of the articles do seem to be paid: there is not much apart from blogs left for non-subscriber visitors, meaning that the site is likely to become far more niche. There is no telling how many people will take out digital or even paper subscriptions as a result, but if advertising revenue is not proving sufficient, then it's arguably wise to give this a shot, especially as the only major newspaper in the Dallas market.
The New York Times is on the verge of introducing a metered payment model, and Gannett has also just announced that it is experimenting with a paid-content model at three newspaper websites.