AJC Online Content to Go Paid Subscription-Only
(APN) ATLANTA — Freedom of the press does not mean that the press can operate for free, and, with that in mind, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper has announced that it will begin charging online viewers a subscription cost in order to view original AJC content on the website in the near future.
An annual digital premium subscription–for digital content only, no print edition–would cost 179 dollars and 92 cents at the currently advertised rate, at $3.46 a week for 52 weeks.
The subscription appears to be billable for $14.99 per month plus tax.
However, subscribers who choose to get the Thursday and Sunday newspaper and the digital subscription actually pay a little bit less: $14.38 per month plus tax. Presumably, readers who choose that package actually receive a small discount because they would be boost the AJC’s struggling print circulation.
As part of the new paywall rollout, Cox Enterprises, which owns the AJC, has unveiled a new website and concept called MyAJC.com, where paid subscribers will be able access AJC articles online.
Presently, at the regular AJC.com website, readers who open certain local news articles are only able to view the first two or three paragraphs of the story, and then are advised: “Introducing our new subscriber website. Starting May 16, ajc.com will carry condensed versions of local news content. The complete article will be available on our new subscriber-only premium website, myajc.com. Look for this symbol next to premium content.”
Wire stories, for example, are supposed to remain available on the free site.
Over the last two and a half years, there has been an increasing trend in the newspaper industry towards requiring payment for online content.
As Michael Reed, Chairman of the Newspaper Association of America, told the Poynter Institute in 2011, “We believe that there is value in our local news reports, and subscribers have been paying for it for 100 years.”
Prevailing practice, he said, “was as if you had a successful ice cream store and opened another one down the street giving away ice cream for free.”
Reed said that he believed the newspaper industry made a mistake by giving away their content for free.
In January 2011, the Dallas Morning News announced that it would begin charging for original, local online content, as the AJC recently announced.
In March 2011, the New York Times introduced a new paywall where the newspaper allows online readers a total of twenty article views for free per month–not including those accessed through search engines or social media links–and after that requires a paid subscription.
By the end of 2011, the number of NYT online subscribers had risen to 390,000, up twenty percent from the previous quarter.
The Star-Tribune of Minneapolis adopted the NYT’s model in October 2011.
Meanwhile, also in 2011, the Boston Globe tried a different model where certain original content would be paid, while other original content would be free; however, this model has not been as successful as the NYT model, according to the Boston Business Journal.
The AJC had a weekday paid circulation of 350,159 in September 2006. This fell to 304,133 in September 2007; to 274,062 in September 2008; to 211,420 in September 2009; to 181,504 in 2010, according to various news reports that cite the Audit Bureau of Circulations [now known as the Alliance for Audited Media].
According to a 2011 article in the New York Times, the AJC saw one of the greatest print circulation declines among US newspapers, during the period from 2005 to 2008.
The question remains as to how the change will impact the AJC’s web traffic. While some households and institutions–for example, the Atlanta Progressive News–are likely to purchase an AJC digital subscription, some consumers may decide to turn to other online news sources to access original local news content for free.
On Facebook, some readers did not greet the change with much enthusiasm.
When Doug Monroe, a journalist for Atlanta Magazine, formerly of Creative Loafing Atlanta magazine, posted the price of an annual subscription, one reader replied, “Thus I refuse to do this.”
“Gross,” wrote another.
“What?!! That is kind of crazy!” wrote a third.
But Jay Bookman, a center-left AJC columnist, replied, “That’s the new reality, though. Print and classified advertising can’t carry the revenue burden any longer.”
APN reached out to Drue Miller, a spokeswoman for Cox Media Group, for more information. However, Miller said no one was available to comment all day today, Monday, April 15, 2013, and she was not able to answer basic questions such as print circulation figures for 2005, 2011, and 2012.
Therefore, either the AJC’s spokeswoman was not aware of the newspaper’s circulation figures, or was not authorized to share them publicly.
APN has never charged for online content, and does not plan on doing so. APN relies on reader donations and online and e-newsletter advertising for the vast majority of its revenue.