O-R instituting paywall for online services

Publisher: ‘Time has come’ for paywall on online services

May 27, 2013
Photo illustration by Emily Harger / Observer-Reporter

The Observer-Reporter is stepping up security … for its website.

“The time has come for this,” said Thomas P. Northrop, publisher of the daily newspaper that serves all of Washington and Greene counties and south-central Allegheny. “Newspapers have to figure out a way to protect their content.”

“This” is a paywall the O-R is implementing for its website, observer-reporter.com. Readers and news organizations have had free access to articles since the site was established years ago. But starting Monday, they will have to pay.

Visitors to the site may view 10 pages per month for free, but will have to pay for anything above that. They can continue to look at the main page and story headlines and synopses without charge, but clicking on a story will result in a view.

“We will be fluid with that figure,” said Lucy Northrop Corwin, director of news. “We may go with five or seven views. The industry average is seven and a half.”

This is considered a “soft” paywall, allowing some usage without subscription. A “hard” paywall allows little or no online access.

Matt Miller, director of sales and marketing at the Observer-Reporter, pointed out that print edition subscribers will be unaffected by the paywall. They will have free access to the website and its electronic edition.

“They will continue to be able to read our products in print, on a computer, a tablet or a phone,” he said. “They will have an all-access pass to read our products however they choose.”

Miller said the newspaper reaches more than 30,000 print subscribers every day and delivers more than 3.3 million website impressions each month.

“The fact is, newspaper readership around the country – and right here in our market – has never been stronger,” he said. “The paywall will allow the Observer-Reporter to maintain and strengthen our journalistic mission in Washington, Greene and southern Allegheny counties.

“In addition, it will allow us to innovate on the digital side of our business. Our print subscribers have always readily paid for the newspaper, and we deeply appreciate their loyalty. As it is costly to produce the online versions of our product, it has now become necessary to charge for this service.”

The paywall concept is not new, A number of newspapers – many of them large operations, such as The New York Times – charge for their online offerings. More have been opting to do that over time.

Northrop Corwin said the Observer-Reporter has been discussing the installation of a paywall for a few years, “but we were not quite ready. Now the time seems right.

“People are used to the idea of having to pay for this content and they realize the value of this content.

“There are a lot of social media, but if you want to go to a trusted news source, that’s what we are.”

Thomas Northrop added that the Observer-Reporter is “the one local place where all of the local content is original. We’re doing this as a precaution.”

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won seven individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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