The rollout of our All-Access Membership is resulting in a flurry of digital activity for The Augusta Chronicle. It also has meant personal contact with many of you, our readers.
Hundreds of you started your online memberships July 15. Now, more than 2,000 people registered following the announcement, for a total of more than 3,000 digital members – and in turn, gained access to premium content online and through our other platforms as we phase out the “free for a limited time” pricing model. More than 23,840 users have downloaded our mobile apps – including 9,000 iPad apps – and Web traffic is surging on our site with roughly 800,000 monthly unique visitors.
Coming soon, we’ll launch à la carte digital pricing of $9.95 per month each for iPad and mobile, e-edition or online. You still can get all digital access for $16. The Sunday membership that includes print delivery and digital access remains $11.63, one of our best values.
A few print-only readers interpreted the All-Access change that came with a price increase as forcing something on them they did not want. I responded directly to some of those readers, and am sharing that response with you. I look forward to corresponding with any of you as well:
As the president of The Augusta Chronicle, it is my obligation to personally address the concerns you voiced in your recent correspondence. First and foremost, thank you for your input. It is extremely valuable to our company and me as we move forward. I recognize, as a subscriber to our newspaper, you make this choice to purchase our newspaper as a discretionary investment. However, I hope you value the contribution our newspaper, both print and digital, provides you and your family.
I’m sorry you interpret our All-Access initiative as forcing a product or service you do not want. That is the furthest from our motivation. Our printed newspaper will continue to be delivered seven days a week; and the All-Access initiative provides the option to receive the paper through digital access such as home computers, iPad and smart phones.
We recognize a price increase would necessitate a value-added proposal, so we have taken many steps to offset the price increase we are instituting. These offsets include:
• improved content from our newsroom and contracted freelance journalists;
• a reader’s reward program that provides coupons to nearly 50 local businesses, which when redeemed easily would offset the price increase alone;
• the privilege to gift an All-Access membership to a family member at no additional cost (valued at $16 month if this were an independent membership);
• a free monthly classified ad and/or announcement in our paper
• a 5 percent discount for EZ Pay customers;
• additional discounts based on subscription frequency and/or length.
Again, we’ve attempted to make this 85-cent-per-week increase as transparent as possible through these exclusive membership rewards and privileges.
The Chronicle has made every attempt to keep our price structure as consistent as possible over the past decades, but quite frankly, the business model we have been operating under simply is no longer supportable in today’s market and economy. Over the years, we have been able to literally subsidize the cost of the paper through revenue we’ve generated from print advertising.
As you know, the options for advertising are very diverse in today’s market, and include print, digital, radio, television, social media, and many more that are just around the corner. This diversity of advertising has obviously affected the revenue we can divert to offset the cost of newspaper production. Newspaper production includes cost of personnel, infrastructure, consumables (paper, ink, etc.), print production equipment, distribution – the list goes on.
The Chronicle is not the only newspaper to move to an All Access model, nor are we the only ones that are increasing the price of its product. The dynamics I listed above are equally shared by all newspapers across our country and globally, and almost all are being forced to raise their prices, or find other accommodations such as less frequency, reduced content or, in some cases, cease business altogether.
Major print entities such as Hearst, McClatchy, Gannett, all are moving to this new business model simply because these economic realities are not isolated to just us, but are systemic across this industry.
At The Chronicle, we’ve made a conscious decision to continue with both the quality of content in our newspaper, and also the distribution frequency. We had other choices ranging from limiting days of production, reducing the amount of news/content coverage, limiting circulation to outlying areas, consolidating with other publishers, instituting employee layoffs, wage freezes, furloughs, etc. All of these options were unacceptable simply because our team is committed to producing the quality newspaper our customers have come to expect.
This course we are charting comes from extensive customer feedback. We’ve surveyed other markets to ensure we are incorporating best practices and every option to offset the price increase. We truly want to remain value-added to you and your family, and we sincerely appreciate your business and support.
Like any business, we must remain profitable to ensure we are postured to be able to continue to produce the quality news we have done over the years in award-winning fashion; that we are able to make capital investments allowing us to continuously improve and modernize; and that we can fairly compensate the workforce that labors 24 hours a day, seven days a week to produce and distribute this region’s best local and national news coverage.
We wish we could continue our old business model that subsidized the cost of producing a quality newspaper, but that simply is not an option is today’s economic climate. I recognize this is change, but I also hope you understand our situation and are supportive of this nominal increase to our customers to sustain the newspaper you enjoy every day.
Again, I truly appreciate your willingness to provide your comments, and I am always available should you have any additional questions or concerns.
If you have the time, I would be honored to play host to you at our newspaper to show you how we produce this quality product; meet the outstanding people who are a part of a world-class team; and introduce you to some of the modernization initiatives we are currently deploying.
If this sounds acceptable, I can have my secretary get in touch to find a convenient time on your schedule. My personal contact information is: firstname.lastname@example.org; (706) 823-3543.
(The writer became president of The Augusta Chronicle in January.)