Cook: Advantage Membership makes sense

  • Posted: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 10:06 a.m.
    UPDATED: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 10:22 a.m.

Countdown to Advantage Membership: Five days.

Publisher Greg Anderson recently announced that the Post will switch to a membership model on Sunday. This makes so much sense, we’re wondering why we didn’t do it sooner.

Salisbury Post subscribers will continue to get a paper delivered to your home seven days a week. No changes there. But, if you choose to also register online for an Advantage Membership at no extra charge, you’ll have access to all our digital products and receive other benefits.

If you’re strictly an online reader, you’ll be able to see five articles a month for free, along with unlimited views of obituaries, celebrations and classified ads. To see more stories and comment on them, you’ll have to pay for a digital-only membership.

Why charge, you ask? Why now?

For many years reporting news online was uncharted territory for the Salisbury Post and thousands of other papers. We were learning every step of the way, and we plan to continue to do so. But one thing we’ve figured out conclusively is that — for our news organizations at least — content is too valuable to simply give away.

This will be a “no, duh,” moment for a lot of readers. You’ve been asking us why we keep letting people read our news free online while charging for the printed newspaper.

Others will be less receptive. Perhaps you’ve gotten used to free access, believe that’s the way the Internet should work and have no intention of paying for news. Some of you have told us exactly that in online comments, saying you won’t be reading the Post online anymore. You’ll get your news elsewhere. I hope you’ll change your mind.

If you want daily news about Rowan County — from government coverage to features to sports, business news and more — the Salisbury Post is the place to get it.

This may come as a shock: Newspapers are businesses, and businesses need to make money. We’ve been encouraged to see traffic on our website grow through the years. But the people who write the stories and shoot the photos on the site don’t work for free. Nor do the power company, computer manufacturers or content management systems.

Much like book publishers who produce e-books, we’ve learned that making content available digitally may seem simple on the surface, but costs are involved.

About 33 percent of the 1,380 daily newspapers in this country “have started or announced plans for some kind of paid content subscription or paywall plan,” according to the Pew Research Center for Excellence in Journalism. One media observer, Poynter’s Rick Edmonds, has called these plans “the industry’s biggest success story of the last several years.”

Many people who use newspaper websites are print subscribers already. You read the paper at home but like to check the latest headlines throughout the day. If someone at work mentions a story you missed, you can look it up on our website. If you’re doing research about local history or politics, our online archive is a priceless resource.

And many subscribers have told us they like keeping up with local news while on vacation by checking our website or mobile app.

How you read your news is a matter of personal choice, much like the way you choose to bank — teller, ATM, online, mobile app. For paying customers, we’ll do our best to provide our stories and photos the way you want as readers’ habits evolve.

I’ll close with a message Publisher Anderson posted online Monday, in response to readers’ praise and pans:

“Thanks to all for your comments, and thank you to those who have already activated your Advantage Membership or digital subscription. I realize some folks will see this change as negative, but I also appreciate you caring enough to comment. As others have pointed out, we are late to make this change. I’m confident that asking a fair price for our hard work will strengthen us for the future.”

Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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