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July 22, 2014, 11:32 a.m.
Business Models
LINK: johnlrobinson.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   July 22, 2014

Former newspaper editor John Robinson notes some unusual pricing at his old daily, the Greensboro News & Record:

The surprising thing to me – and which I believe is unusual for newspaper paywalls – is that the N&R is charging more for a digital subscription than for a print subscription.

Currently, a 7-day, 52-week subscription costs $187.12. According to an ad in the newspaper today, the digital subscription is $215.40. (FYI, the subscription page on the website hasn’t been updated, at least that I can find.)

In comparison, the News & Observer charges $390 for a year’s print subscription, and only $69.95 for a digital subscription. The Star News in Wilmington charges $218.40 for the print edition, and $131.40 for a digital subscription.

But the N&R is cutting the other way. Editor/Publisher Jeff Gauger explains: “The reason for that variance? A print subscription permits us to subsidize the cost of content by providing access to your home or business for preprinted advertising circulars. A digital-only subscription lacks that advertising subsidy.”

The N&R’s move is unusual, but it’s far from unprecedented. The Orange County Register is currently offering digital access for $3.99 a week, or digital plus Sunday print for $2.99 a week. That’s right: They’ll essentially pay you a dollar a week to take the Sunday paper. The New York Times has done something similar since launching its paywall — Sunday print gives you all-digital access at a price that’s usually cheaper than all-digital access itself. (Currently: $8.60 a week for Sunday print plus digital, $8.75 a week for just digital.)

What is a bit unusual here is pricing digital above a seven-day print subscription, not just a Sunday print subscription. That is unusual. But Berkshire Hathaway-owned papers have gone against the grain before. The Omaha World-Herald charges even 7-day print subscribers for digital access ($7 extra a month!) and $25 a month for digital alone. The Tulsa World offers $14.99 a month for digital — or $14 a month for digital plus Sunday and Wednesday print. It’s a weird world.

Robinson:

Is the pricing structured to encourage digital users to subscribe to the paper? After all, the more subscribers a paper has, the more it can charge advertisers. (Despite what many readers think, advertising pays the bulk of the cost of a newspaper, not subscription fees.) I doubt this is the actual intent, but it does make some perverse sense to the consumer. Unless you can get what you need from the website from its 20 free articles per month.

I can’t speak for the News & Record, but at many papers, that is exactly the intent. Propping up print numbers isn’t the only reason to structure offers this way, but it’s a big one.

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