In a community all too accustomed to the unexpected detours and occasional gridlock of continual road construction, this week brought a familiar feel to the visitors of the Denton Record-Chronicle’s website.
On Monday, the newspaper introduced a paid subscription model for our digital readers — a process that was a little bumpy in the beginning, with some subscribers being denied access or encountering error messages. We appreciate everyone’s patience and feedback as we worked through the kinks and are happy to report that it’s now mostly smooth traveling in navigating our website.
The decision to implement a paywall for our online readers followed months of discussions, preparations and long hours of studying readership trends and industry forecasts — along with the input of numerous outside experts. We are one of the last daily newspapers our size to go this route, but the timing could not be more favorable.
For just as the highway expansions currently underway in Denton County are in preparation for the future transportation needs of a growing populace, the changes taking place at the Record-Chronicle are in anticipation of the future information demands of our evolving readership.
So what does that mean?
Much already has been written about the Record-Chronicle’s decision to make this change, from reporter Jenna Duncan’s article Sunday announcing the paywall to Publisher Bill Patterson’s column in the same edition sharing our thinking. But even with those reports, some confusion and misconceptions have been shared in communication to us and in comments posted on DentonRC.com and on our various social media platforms.
Let me address some of the more frequently voiced questions.
Why are you now charging for online access? First and foremost, we are making this change to protect and reinforce the value of the journalism we produce. It is no coincidence that in the same week we announced a paid subscription model for online readers, we published two exhaustive enterprise packages — on how public officials receive reimbursement for travel and dining, and a six-part series on the fracking ban anniversary — that involved scores of online components and searchable data.
We produce local content that is simply unmatched in our market, involving the hard work and expertise of experienced, award-winning journalists. No other industry would pay for facilities, equipment and materials, while assembling a team of competent, dedicated employees, and then give away for free all the goods produced.
Why not sell ads instead of charging readers? We do sell ads, as any reader familiar with either our website or printed newspaper could attest. We have great relationships with local businesses and are continuing to add to our pool of advertisers, but again these ads do not protect the value of our product if we are not equitable in how we treat our readers. We cannot charge one set of readers (print subscribers) and not the other (online readers) for similar products, just as you would not expect a pizzeria to charge for deliveries but not carryout orders.
Aren’t you doing this because you are losing readers? As our publisher stated in his Sunday column, “We have so many more people reading what we do today than ever.” In fact last month, our website saw over 600,000 unique visitors and over a million pageviews; the month prior, more than 560,000 unique visitors read a story on DentonRC.com. The readership needle is pointing up.
But is there enough local news produced to warrant a charge? Last month, we made more than 2,600 new posts to our website; the month prior, the number was more than 2,300, with the month before that more than 1,900. We are continuing to add additional local content, in stories, briefs, charts, calendar items, videos, photo galleries, etc. Through our partnerships with the University of North Texas student journalists, the Dallas Morning News, NBC 5 and others, we are covering all corners of northern Denton County — and we are continuing to look for more opportunities to maximize our local content.
Will everything now be behind the paywall? No. A lot of the content on our website, such as that produced by The Associated Press, locally produced videos, classified advertisements and obituaries, will continue to be free to access. As well, content deemed to be critical for the community to know, such as weather and traffic alerts, will be placed in front of the paywall so everyone can access it. And of course, current and future print subscribers will receive all access online free with their print subscriptions.
Haven’t paywalls proven to be unsuccessful in the past? Some of the most recognizable, thriving news operations operate behind a paywall, such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Houston Chronicle and Dallas Morning News. These newspapers have paywalls because they ensure the lasting value of the content produced — and they generate new subscriptions. In just the few days the paywall has been active for the Record-Chronicle, close to 30 new subscriptions have been added of varying lengths.
Aren’t subscriptions costly? The subscription plans now being offered at the Record-Chronicle are among the least expensive in the state. A digital day pass, allowing you to read as many stories as you like in a 24-hour period, is just 99 cents — or the cost of a candy bar. Those who sign up for a two-year digital subscription will pay 99 cents a week, and a 12-week subscription will be $1.99 a week.
The Record-Chronicle just celebrated its 116th anniversary as a daily newspaper. During that time, the newspaper has seen the evolution from hot lead to full pagination to the advent of the internet to the complex digital offerings of today. As we continue into our 117th year and beyond, we will continue to look for new opportunities to engage and inform our readers in the format and manner they find most comfortable — made possible through the changes now in place.
We look forward to your feedback and involvement as we move forward into this new era. For additional information on our all-access offerings, be sure to check out our FAQ’s at https://dentonrc.com/allaccess.