SALT LAKE CITY (CN) – The Salt Lake Tribune is fighting the news industry’s revenue problems by offering an ad-free version of its Internet page for $9.99 a month.
The Tribune calls it “cleaner, more responsive” version of the website.
The Tribune is the state’s largest newspaper, with 103,000 daily circulation and 135,000 on Sundays. It has a joint operating agreement with its rival, the Deseret News, whose circulation is 40,000 weekdays and 109,000 on Sundays.
Newspapers have faced declining revenue and circulation for a decade or more, as the Internet provides free news coverage, and online ad sites such as eBay and Craigslist have devastated the papers’ once-profitable Classified section.
The Trib said its ad-free site would include newsletters and invitations to special events.
As an alternative, subscribers can enroll as “sustaining” members for $4.99 a month, and get invitations to newspaper-hosted events it calls “Trib Talk Live.”
Editor-publisher Terry Orme said the paid subscription, which are not linked print subscriptions, may only draw “a small percentage” of online readers.
“It’s all voluntary,” Orme wrote in an editorial. “If this does not interest you, click ‘no thanks’ on the pop-up window and keep on reading.”
But Orme said he hopes readers will consider the new format.
“The idea here is to create another revenue stream from our online edition, and, with the events, engage our audience in more personal, face-to-face venues,” Orme wrote.
The “Trib Talk Live” gatherings in the past year have included discussions on issues facing Mormon women, a headline-drawing state attorneys general scandal , and the debate over federal control of Utah’s public lands.
“People ask me this all the time,” Orme said. “Why does the Salt Lake Tribune give away its content for free online? Why don’t you charge for it, just like you do in print?
“My answer: We are in a competitive market. If we charge, a portion of our digital audience will leave.”
The Tribune began publishing online in 1995.
Orme told Courthouse News that The Tribune was “pleased with the response so far.”
Membership numbers, he said, hit triple figures within two days.
“It’s no secret that The Tribune, like virtually all print and broadcast newsrooms around the county, continues to face tough financial times,” Orme said. “Placing a pay wall around the website is one common strategy for raising revenue, but it hasn’t gone so well for many newspapers. Some have reversed course and taken them down in a move to regain traffic.”
The Dallas Morning News offered a similar subscription in 2014, which it later dismantled.
The Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle also offer membership programs with events and giveaways.
Ad-free websites will not be available for The Tribune’s Apple and Android applications.
The paper’s new website, Orme said, employs “responsive design” to conform to and fit all screens.
The Tribune is owned by Denver-based Media News Group. Its main competitor, the Deseret News, is owned by the Mormon Church.
The Trib’s motto, “Utah’s Independent Voice Since 1871,” refers to the newspaper’s independence from the Church of Latter-day Saints.
The Trib established this in a scorching obituary of Brigham Young in 1877, in which it called the Mormon leader “blarophant.” The word does not exist, even in the Oxford English Dictionary. An Internet search for it leads inevitably to the famous obituary.
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