Thursday, December 2, 2021
Dec. 2, 2021

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From the Newsroom: Giving the gift of free online access

By , Columbian Editor
Published:

Our print subscribers have been good to us this year, supporting local journalism and sustaining our business in what continues to be a time of upheaval in the traditional news industry.

So we have a gift for all of you: Free subscriptions to our digital products.

If you are a print subscriber, you should have received a postcard telling you how to sign up. We spread the news gradually over the last six weeks, so that we would be able to assist anyone who was having trouble.

We have three digital products that are now freely available to our print subscribers:

• The original and most familiar is our website, www.columbian.com. Southwest Washington’s best and most comprehensive news site is updated all day long with the latest stories both locally and from the wire services. In addition to the content that appears in the print paper, we offer video, audio, interactive graphics, online polls and other exclusive features. Our site has what we call a responsive design, meaning it can tell if you are looking at it from a device with a big screen or small screen, and will size itself accordingly so that you can easily read it.

• The website’s cousin is our mobile app. Smartphone and tablet users can download it from their digital app store; we have versions for both Android and Apple. You can register for both of these at www.columbian.com/digital.

• We also have our e-paper, which is a digital version of the printed paper. You see and can thumb through the actual pages of the newspaper; clicking on a story opens it in a larger window so you can easily read the content. It’s an especially nifty way to read the paper if you have a tablet device and are traveling. Sign up at www.columbian.com/ePaper. (If you have trouble registering for any of these products, call us at 360-694-2312 or email circulation@columbian.com.)

Previously, these products all required paid subscriptions whether you take the paper or not. I asked Ben Campbell, our circulation director, what went into the decision to begin offering these products at no extra charge.

Ben explained that the decision was made carefully, because we want to make subscribers happy and reward them for paying for our journalism. But we also need our business to make enough money to sustain the cost of that journalism. He studied a mix of 32 daily newspapers, including Northwest newspapers, independently owned newspapers like The Columbian, and some of the big national newspapers.

He quickly found out that we were an outlier in charging extra to print subscribers, he said. In an era when newspapers are trying to woo paid readership online, charging our best, most loyal customers twice doesn’t make sense. So we changed our policy.

What isn’t changing is the $9.99 monthly cost for a digital-only subscription, or our limit on five free articles per 30-day period for non-subscribers. Like other news organizations, we once thought advertisers would find our site irresistible, allowing us to offer news for free. That hasn’t happened here or anywhere; today just two companies — Facebook and Google — capture the majority of internet advertising dollars.

“In theory, everyone thought it would work,” Ben said. When it didn’t, we realized that we would need to charge online customers, just as we always charged print customers. But now, we won’t be charging anyone twice.

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