Print and digital subscriptions to newspapers generally work like this: If you subscribe to the print product, you get free digital access. But if all you want is digital, you can pay a little less.
Not so in Richmond.
The Times-Dispatch launched its All Access paywall Tuesday that charges more for those readers who want digital access to the website but don’t want newspapers delivered to their doorsteps. After introductory rates expire, each print subscription option — seven-day, six-day, either of two four-day options, or Sunday-only — will cost a flat $19 per month with digital access included. Meanwhile, digital access without print costs $21 per month.
So is the model forward-thinking and digital-first or is it mostly an attempt to boost print circulation while there’s still some money to be made there? President and publisher Tom Silvestri couldn’t be reached for comment, but here’s how the paper justifies the pricing in its FAQ:
Why, after the introductory period is over, does the digital-only option cost the most?
Traditionally, our business has subsidized the cost of producing content with advertising – particularly the glossy inserts that many readers see in the newspaper on Sundays. When an All Access subscriber chooses the digital-only option, our business misses out on the chance to subsidize the cost of producing content. As a result, digital-only subscribers are paying a higher rate for the content.
That’s confirmation that print advertising remains far more lucrative than online advertising even as readers abandon print for screens. But the extent to which this reality is reflected in subscription prices stands out.
Other papers also leverage reader demand for digital products to boost circulation for ad-heavy Sunday newspapers. For instance:
- The Los Angeles Times offers Sunday print plus digital access for $1.99 per week, but if you’d rather not receive the Sunday paper you’ll pay a dollar more.
- I read the New York Times with a similar deal, by getting digital access paired with just the Sunday print product, which has posted big circulation gains. For $8.20 per week, I get the Sunday paper delivered to me in print and digital access, which includes smartphone and tablet apps. All Digital Access without print costs $8.75 per week.
- Readers of the Indianapolis Star can receive Sunday and Thursday in print plus digital for the same price ($12 per month) as digital alone, but to upgrade to seven-day print costs $14 more, bringing the monthly total to $26.
But the new Richmond model goes further than any of these examples in offering home delivery — including all seven days of the week — as a bonus, so it’ll be fascinating to see its impact on print circulation. If they can put up with newsprint piling up in their homes, digital subscribers literally have nothing to lose by signing up for print delivery — and, in fact, they have $2 per month to gain.