‘Rockaway Wave’ Has Believed In Its Paywall Strategy Since 2003

By: Nu Yang

'Rockaway Wave' Has Believed In Its Paywall Strategy Since 2003

As many newspapers contemplate whether or not to charge for their online content, a small New York weekly has had a successful paywall in place since 2003. Founded in 1893, the Wave is located in Rockaway Beach on the Rockaway peninsula in New York’s borough of Queens. The paper is published every Friday with an 11,500 paid print circulation.

According to general manager Sanford Bernstein, when the paper launched rockawave.com in the late 1990s, not all the stories were uploaded at first. Once the paywall was put in place, all the stories were displayed online.

Our Hometown, Inc., based in Clifton Springs, N.Y., is in charge of the weekly task of uploading stories to the Web. “We started to see a demand to start charging for content especially from the small weeklies,” said Our Hometown founder Stephen Larson. According to Larson, more than 50 percent of his clients operate with an online paywall.

The Wave charges $20 for a yearly online subscription. For local residents, that also includes their print paper. Out-of-towners pay $40 for both print and Web access. Bernstein said there are currently about 600 online subscribers.

“We’re trying to make the Internet support the paper copy,” Bernstein said. By offering the subscriptions at such a low cost, he said he hopes readers will see the value of subscribing to both print and online.

For 75 cents, readers have online access to the current single issue. After two weeks, the paywall is lifted from that issue, and archives are free to access.

Bernstein said his next digital goal is to work with the public library’s newspaper archives to move older editions dating back to 1896 from microfilm to a searchable PDF format.

He said he advises other small weeklies to look into erecting paywalls. “If you’re not charging for your news, you’re devaluing it … newspapers should not give away their copy for free.”

Larson added that in the past, maximizing website traffic was the main goal. “I’ve changed my philosophy and now tell publishers to charge, and to charge as much as you’re selling print.”

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