Once upon a time, if you wanted to read the news in the Las Vegas Optic, you had to actually buy the paper.
Then the Internet came along and the Optic went online. Then, suddenly, the hard work of our newsroom could be read for free.
It’s a credit to the quality of our product and services (and an indication that many of our readers still prefer to read hardcopy editions) that we’ve managed to hold on tight to our subscription base.
I remember way back when I rode a dinosaur to work (the early 1990s) and we still pasted up news pages in the composing room. The newspaper was owned by a newspaper corporation that sent an executive to our operation. He explained that our future was in this brave new world called the Internet, so we were jumping in with both feet. Every newspaper in the company, he said, was going to have a dynamic new website, filled with free content. Then he said, “We’ll figure out later how to make money off it.”
A couple of years ago, that particular newspaper company filed for bankruptcy.
It’s no secret that the 21st Century has been a challenge for the newspaper industry, but it’s a mistake to conclude that newspapers are dying. Rather, we’re adjusting. In 2009, we took the Optic from a five-days-a-week frequency to three days per week, and we moved from carrier delivery to mail. These were tough, cost-cutting moves but we needed to do it.
Then, 2010 was our most successful business year in at least six years.
We adjusted, and it paid off.
Now we’re about to make another adjustment, and some of you aren’t going to like it. But I think more of you will understand why we’re doing it when you consider the value of our product.
Starting next week we’re beginning the process of moving most of our content behind an online “paywall.” Eventually (though not immediately) you’ll have to purchase a subscription to read all of the Optic online.
We’ll still allow complete public access to some online features such as the headlines, photo galleries, marketplace advertising, classifieds and legals. And those who register can have access to some other features like blogs and forums, the community calendar and pet-of-the-week submissions.
But other content — including most of our news, sports and opinion pieces, our archives, and our electronic editions — will require a paid subscription. Such content is valuable to us, and we can’t afford to keep giving it away.
Now, we realize that much of our work falls within the category of community service, so we’re not going to lock out the rest of the world when something big and important is breaking. In a community emergency or crisis, we’ll leave the important stories open for all to read.
Our “wall” goes up next week, with our Monday, March 21, edition. In the beginning, you’ll be given 10 minutes of unlimited access before a pop-up window lets you know your options. At that point, you can subscribe to the paper and get unlimited access to our online product or, if you’re already a subscriber, you need only to sign up using your subscription information. Or you can register for free access to some but not all of our website features. Or you can simply sign up for complete access over a 30-day trial period.
Our circulation manager, Crissy Johnson, is already getting good at walking people through the process, so if you hit a snag or just want to make it easy on yourself, feel free to call her at 505-425-6796, extension 228. Or, if you have a complaint about it, feel free to call me directly. But be prepared for some friendly push-back, because I’m convinced this is a necessary and important step in the right direction — not only for the Optic and its customers, but for the newspaper industry as a whole.
Tom McDonald is editor and publisher of the Optic. He may be reached at email@example.com or 505-425-6796, ext. 237.