Update below: This week, the Denver Post put up a paywall around the vast majority of its material for the first time since April 2015, when the paper opened access to all of its digital and mobile content so that more readers could see its coverage of the Aurora theater shooting trial. Now, the only way folks who've grown accustomed to reading the Post online for free during the past two years-plus can see all the articles they'd like is by paying to subscribe to either the electronic or print edition of the publication.
Post publisher Mac Tully, corresponding via email, describes the decision like so: "Creating high-quality, exclusive journalism is expensive work and we think it is worth paying for. By launching a digital subscription model, we are asking our readers to support journalism."
Tully was much more expansive about this topic during a November 2013 interview that followed on the heels of the Post's decision to erect a paywall.
"This has been an evolving discussion for a couple of years," he said at the time. "As you know, there have been a number of different newspapers and newspaper organizations that have gone this route prior to us that we've obviously been watching with interest. Then, about six months ago, we began to have more earnest discussions around this — so it's not something that just crept up. In fact, it's a discussion the newspaper industry should have probably looked at a lot harder over a decade ago."
When paywalls were brought up back then as a way to staunch the red ink flowing from the newspaper industry, plenty of observers responded with the horse-is-out-of-the-barn analogy — i.e., customers who've grown accustomed to getting their online content for free won't be happy if they're suddenly asked to pay for it. Tully didn't dismiss this take out of hand.
"You can certainly argue both sides of it," he acknowledged, "and I think there are valid arguments on both sides. But it's exciting for us, because it's an opportunity to really recognize the fact that we have Pulitzer Prize-winning content that's valuable and unique. And charging your print audience for it while giving it away for free online is a flawed strategy, in my opinion."
He added: "I was out with an advertiser over five years ago, and he made a comment that really resonated with me. He said, 'Mac, I know how valuable your print audience is, because they're willing to pay hundreds of dollars a year for something I can go online and get for free.' And that resonated, because we work so hard to create unique, valuable content that's valuable to readers, and yet we turn around and give it away online."
The Post's decision to lift the paywall for the Aurora theater shooting trial and then leave it down afterward seemed to be an indication that the strategy hadn't resulted in a windfall. Since then, however, the paper has suffered plenty from tough economic times of the sort that are typical for print publications these days.
In the more than three years since the Post was put up for sale, no suitors have offered enough cash to satisfy its current owner, a hedge fund called Alden Global Capital. Meanwhile, Alden has engaged in regular rounds of downsizing, shrinking the editorial staff by 26 in 2016 and cutting at least seven more positions last November. The newsroom now has fewer than a third of the employees on hand than it did during its peak period, when more than 300 people had jobs there.
How does the new paywall work? "Denver Post subscribers receive unlimited access," Tully explains. "Non-subscribers receive a limited number of clicks to story content in a rolling thirty-day period before they will need to subscribe."
Those who go over the allowed number see the headline and top photo for stories and typically a line or two of text before the rest of the item is covered by the graphic above. The wording implies that access will be restored if an ad blocker is turned off, but that's not the case. Only subscribing allows visitors to see all of the Post's latest efforts.
A notable exception is The Cannabist, the Post division dedicated to marijuana coverage. Either Post execs believe they're getting enough national and international views to justify it remaining outside the paywall or they figure stoners would never bother to subscribe. Either way, it's the only part of the site that's free from top to bottom — at least for now.
Not that the Post is completely out of money. Indeed, the paper is eager to give some of it away, as long as you've got a set of wheels, as indicated by this new ad:
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Don't know if delivery drivers will get digital access to the paper — but as they're dropping editions on driveways, they can probably sneak a peek.
Update: After the publication of this item, we learned that The Know and The Know Outdoors, the Denver Post's entertainment and outdoors sections, respectively, will also continue to be free for non-subscribers. Click on them to your heart's content at no charge.