A move we felt was fair and much needed

Published 2:03am Sunday, February 20, 2011

Earlier this week we published a news article announcing that March 1, we would begin charging a small fee for complete access to our website, selmatimesjournal.com. We followed industry trends more than a decade ago when we created our website offering free content and supported (we thought) by advertising. We believed the advertising would pay for the cost of operating the website plus yield a fair profit for our investment. But that has never happened. We established our website at a time when the Internet was just taking off as a mass communication and marketing vehicle, a “wild, wild, west” of sorts where free content was the model media companies followed.

Flash forward a decade and as it relates to the media industry the rules have changed and continue to change from a business perspective. Our industry is waking up to the reality the business model we created more than a decade ago simply doesn’t make good business sense. Digital advertising is an excellent vehicle for businesses to advertise their goods and services, but, in community newspapers such as ours it hasn’t offered the opportunity for us to make a fair profit for the unique content we deliver. Thus our decision to begin March 1 charging what we consider a reasonable rate, 13 cents per day, for full access to our website.

The announcement didn’t sit well with many readers and understandably so. If I’d been getting something free for a decade and were suddenly asked to begin paying for it, I’d be upset, too.

Some people understood, most vented their displeasure. My response was we are not being greedy; we only seek to charge a fair rate for what we deliver each day to readers. Like every business, charging a reasonable fee allows us to sustain our business’ operations, pay our 30-member staff and vendors and invest in our community.

We don’t often talk about how we invest in our community, but we do. We financially support many civic endeavors in Selma–Dallas County such Arts Revive, the Selma–Dallas County Chamber of Commerce, the Boy Scouts, the Economic Development Authority, the Selma Community Concert Association, the YMCA, the United Way and many others. We provide a venue for people to communicate with each other through letters to the editor, personal opinion columns and through the comments section of our website. We also allow readers to show off a little by publishing photos of themselves, their friends and family members. We mark happy events such as engagements, weddings, births, ribbon cuttings, industrial announcements and, unfortunately, sad events such as deaths, crimes and divorces.

I see a quality community newspaper as the conduit that helps community members communicate with each other. We also document history; history people can save for future generations to see.

The other day I was in Cuttin’ Loose getting my hair cut and on the wall was a framed article from a past issue of newspaper documenting the business’ ribbon cutting the day they opened. Had we not been at the event, written and published the story the memory would not have been as clear several months, or years afterward.

Certainly, we’d like to do more than we do now for our community. We’d like to be positioned financially to publish more stories, photos and to help document more history, which is why we seek to charge a fair rate for the service we provide – in print and online.

I thank you personally for reading and for being a part of our own history, a history that dates back to 1827 when this newspaper began.

  • D-Man

    Advertisers should be privy to how many are viewing the site (registered), just as they should be privy to how many papers are sold by subscribtion etal..

  • POPDUKES12

    This is gonna make selling advertising a lot harder. This week the salesman can tell the client that 4,000 people view the paper a day online. Next week they will be telling the client that they would have 38 people a day seeing their advertising everyday online. Yep, that should make for a harder sale. popdukes12

  • Pagan

    If the paper can’t make money, it can’t pay it’s employees or keep running. We don’t need more people out of work. I prefer to read on-line, and will be fine with paying to get full access. I hope this is a success.

  • betyaknow

    I have a business and I feel your pain. When my costs go up I am sometimes forced to increase prices to help absorb the additional expenses. Even a small increase brings negativity from customers and I’ve seen some walk out refusing to pay “more than they paid for it last month”. I am left with the difficult decision of either losing customers, or finding ways to cut back in other areas to keep from having to raise prices. Usually, I find ways to cut back, as my customers are important to me and are the lifeblood of my business. People can be funny about these things. Sure I feel justified in needing to raise prices – I have a business to run and I need to make a decent profit – but the customers in Selma will starve you to death and I try to make decisions that will keep my doors open. Charging for online content certainly does not seem to be the best (or smartest?) business decision in a city such as Selma, but I wish the STJ luck with it. As for me, I am already absorbing so much in order to keep my prices reasonable, I cant absorb more just to be able to read my local newspaper. I suppose I’ll have to keep getting my news the way I get most of it already – through the local grapevines.

  • D-Man

    stj has never had much about national news, but more local news and some state news.

    it’s a local newspaper.

  • bamamule

    You will find more up to date news on the “Dead Sea Scrolls”. Try the Montgomery Advertiser for local news.

    • aacourtland

      Good one, bamamule.

  • D-Man

    people spend more on going out to supper on a friday or saturday night.

    i’ll sign on.

    we need to support our local newspaper, just like we need to encourage and support local businesses in selma.

    the stj is a business just like any other business.

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  • POPDUKES12

    Here is an idea: After you establish your average paid prescribers, could you offer a “free peak” on Sunday mornings, in an effort to lure new subscribers?
    It would be sad to know that the only free “livestream” coming out of Selma on the world wide web would be the “co-council” on 105.3. popdukes12

  • jis1999

    I read newspapers from all over the southeast online. Others have talked of this, but they claim the ad revenue from the websites cover their coast. This will be the only one with a charge. As of March 1 I won’t be able to read what is happening in the city where I was born. I have enjoyed reading the STJ. I wish Selma the best. So long and good bye.

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