FT. LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – If you want to get to get the most out of the South Florida Sun- Sentinel’s website, you’d better be prepared to subscribe to the print edition or find some extra cash, because starting in a week, the newspaper plans to charge for full online access.
Like most South Florida media websites, full access to sunsentinel.com has been free until now. While other newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have placed full content behind a “paywall”, the Sun Sentinel will be the first local outlet to make the attempt.
The newspaper is terming this a “digital membership”, and it’s being implemented at newspaper websites owned by the Chicago-based Tribune company, which owns the Sun-Sentinel and WSFL-TV.
In a “Letter to Valued Readers” in Sunday’s newspaper, as well as online, Sun Sentinel publisher Howard Greenberg explained the new plan.
“As we continue strengthening our focus on high-quality journalism and engaging content, we want to let you know about an important change to the Sun Sentinel’s website,” he said.
“7-day newspaper subscribers will receive a free membership to the website. Non 7-day newspaper subscribers, as well as avid SunSentinel.com readers, will have flexible, affordable payment options to become members of our website.”
Greenberg did not detail what those plans would be, how much access would cost, or what, if any, access to the website would be without charge. He said details would come April 9th.
“Keep your eyes peeled for online prompts to begin your membership and stay connected to everything you love about South Florida,” he said.
Like most newspapers, the Sun Sentinel has struggled with declining readership and revenues as people move more online for their news. In many cases, the same news available in print editions to subscribers and newsstand buyers was available online hours earlier at no cost.
Online publishers have tried to generate revenue with their websites while keeping them free, but in most cases it has not replaced what has been lost by the print editions.
The financial problems forced major layoffs at Tribune, and helped send the company into bankruptcy.
Many internet users object to the idea of paying for content, and even in cases where the publisher changes for content unavailable elsewhere, success has been mixed.
In South Florida, the major newspapers have a content sharing agreement which means Sun-Sentinel reports often appear in the Miami Herald, which has yet to charge for access to its website. In addition, competitive sites run by local TV stations also give fast access to breaking news which is one of the top draws on the internet.
However, should Tribune and its newspapers be successful with their digital subscriptions, it’s likely other outlets would consider tghe possibility as well as costs increase and money remains tight.