“Why are you guys giving away your content for free?” is a question Terry Orme, Salt Lake Tribune editor, would often get asked by readers. Until recently, the Utah newspaper didn’t have a paywall or any other restrictions on its website allowing readers free access to the site.
After hearing the question over and over again and while looking for a new way to drum up revenue, Orme decided it was time to offer readers the opportunity to pay for their online newspaper subscriptions with a new membership program.
In July, the Tribune launched the sltrib.com membership program, which offers subscribers ad free access to the news site for $9.99 a month as well as priority invites to the newspaper’s monthly events.
Tribune readers will still have access to the website without a subscription, but will have to view ads. Current print subscribers will also have to purchase an online membership in order to get the site ad free because they already get priority invites to events, Orme explained.
“We’re going after the high volume visitors who spend 10 to 15 to 20 to 45 minutes a day on our website,” he said. “The person who will click five to 10 stories a day, consuming online for free, but values us.”
In addition to the premium membership, readers will have the option to purchase a lower level subscription at $4.99 per month that will have access to an ad free website, but won’t receive the priority invitations to Tribune events.
In the first two days after launching the program, close to 60 people were signing up daily, said Orme. While signups have slowed, Orme is confident once the fall season arrives and they host more events, more readers will subscribe.
The Tribune’s monthly events have drawn large crowds—up to 200 people—at their news forums. Orme said the paper will also beef up its schedule with events such as a Q&A with popular columnists, a preview of the college football season with sports beat writers and a Photoshop workshop with one of the paper’s photographers.
For Orme, the events—and now the new membership program—are about selling a relationship to their readers.
“I get people coming to me (at events) saying ‘Great to see you and your reporters,’” he said. “It’s about engaging face-to-face, brand building and loyalty building.”