The Trib is looking for members.
On Monday, The Salt Lake Tribune launched a membership program that was first announced last week. Described as being for frequent visitors to the newspaper’s website (this reporter first saw the popup invitation to become a member after visiting three pages on the site), buying into the Tribune’s $9.99-per-month premium membership will allow readers to access an advertising-free sltrib.com and invitations to a new monthly event series the newspaper is planning. A scaled-down $4.99 per month contribution will secure the invitations but keep the ads.
In a column announcing the launch, editor and publisher Terry Orme said the membership program is intended to open up another stream of revenue outside of digital advertising for the newspaper. “Like I said a couple of weeks ago, this is in response to a question I’m frequently asked: ‘Why do you give your content away for free online?’ Well, to those of you who have asked, here’s your chance to support Tribune journalism.”
The membership program will be kept separate from the print subscription and the e-edition of the Tribune, which is actually produced by the Utah Media Group which owns the Salt Lake Tribune — at least for now.
The Tribune has already announced the first events in its series: an August evening with longtime news columnist Paul Rolly on Utah’s political elite, and in September, a sports night predicting futures for local favorites the Utes, Cougars, and Aggies.
By starting a membership program, the Salt Lake Tribune joins other papers who have tested similar revenue-diversifying schemes. In 2014, The Dallas Morning News tried (and later dismantled) an experiment in offering an experience with fewer ads. The Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle, among others, also have membership programs offering the types of events and giveaways that the Salt Lake Tribune seems to be offering.
The willingness to offer an ad-free experience makes the Tribune’s offering stand out. Many traditional publishers have been hesitant to make such an offer, in part because of hopes that online advertising would grow into a larger part of the revenue puzzle. Letting a news site’s best customers opt out of ads, the reasoning went, would weaken the ad product. But given online advertising’s continued weakness at newspaper sites (and the broader shift toward relying more on readers for revenue), that might be shifting. As Orme puts it:
Q. By offering an ad-free website, aren’t you cutting the money The Tribune earns by selling advertising?
A. We anticipate that a small percentage of our online readers will become members, and that the effect on advertising will be minimal. However, even a small percentage of readers signing up will have a significant impact on our newsroom budget.
With the dual price-point, this may prove to be an attractive option for those in the Salt Lake area eager to support a newspaper that has been around since 1870. If not, offers Orme, “Click ‘no thanks’ on the pop-up window and keep on reading.”