SavannahNow and its new paywall — a few thoughts

I’ve been writing columns freelance for the Savannah Morning New since 2001. For over half that time, I’ve been doing three columns a week (before that, two; at first, one). I haven’t kept track of how many columns I’ve written in total, but it’s definitely over a thousand.

But as a freelancer and a columnist, I don’t need to go to the newsroom, and I know very little about the paper’s editorial or business decisions.

So I didn’t know in advance about today’s big announcement: Savannahnow moves to metered pay model.

From that piece by publisher Michael Traynor:

With the announcement this morning of our All-Access Membership program for Savannah Morning News print subscribers, we are moving to metered access effective Monday evening, Oct. 29.

Metered access will allow our seven-day Savannah Morning News print subscribers unlimited access to our locally produced journalism and premium content while limiting access to those who seek our premium content for free. Effective Monday evening, non-subscribers will only be able to access 15 pages of our premium content each month without a subscription.

My first reaction: Good.

I’m currently teaching a seven-session module on media ethics in a class at Armstrong. My students — about 70 so far this semester — are mostly young and are exceedingly dubious that they will ever pay for quality news content.

That’s clearly a huge obstacle facing the SMN’s move today.

But let’s be clear. There was a time when it seemed like internet ad sales would generate adequate revenue for daily newspapers to put large portions of their content online, but that has not turned out to be true for many media markets.

Of course, lots of content will still be free. From a comment by editor Susan Catron on the above article:

The home page, latest news, databases, obits, Spotted galleries, Crimestoppers, slideshows and other pieces will still be free. But after you’ve read 15 pages of stories or opinions each month, you’ll hit the meter.

Many casual users of the site won’t have to change their habits at all. Regular users who are not already print subscribers (that includes me, by the way) will now have to decide how important quality local news is to them. And I’m sure some cynics scoff at my use of the word “quality”, but the newspaper’s reporters have been, are, and will continue to be the key conduits in Savannah for important information.

Click here to view the subscription options or to activate your online account if you are already a print subscriber.

Sunday print delivery plus full online access is $11.63/month. Unlimited access to SavannahNow is $9.95/month. SavannahNow, smart phone apps, and the e-edition are $16/month.

My hometown newspaper The State Journal in Frankfort, Ky., has had a paywall for years. So do many other small and medium sized papers, plus big ones like the WSJ and NYT.

There’s a lot of consternation from readers this morning, but this is a logical step.