Readers of the Dallas Morning News' website will soon have a more ad-free experience -- for a price.
The newspaper dropped its pay wall today, making its standard digital content free again. It plans to roll out a premium version of its site with enhanced design and fewer ads later today.
The paper is adopting the new approach because it believes readers see digital as a complement to the print edition rather than a substitute, said Jason Dyer, the paper's chief marketing officer. It had conducted research showing just 5% of the Morning News' print subscribers would give up their seven-day print editions for complete digital access, even if that digital access was free.
"That led us to analyze our consumer more deeply and we concluded that print subscribers were potentially paying for the experience of reading a physical paper," Mr. Dyer explained.
The pay wall, which charged for certain content deemed "premium," also hadn't created a "massive groundswell" of digital revenue, as Mr. Dyer told one of the paper's own reporters.
Advertising on the new premium site will be "limited" as the paper takes a "reader first" approach, Mr. Dyer told Ad Age. "There are plenty of ways to get free content," he said. "We wanted to make sure they had the best possible experience getting our content."
That's not done at the expense of an advertising experience, he added. "Advertising is not punitive," Mr. Dyer said. "We're interested in evolving the experience there."
The free site will give advertisers access to a larger local audience, he added.
The Morning News also has plans to make its content more customizable by giving paying subscribers more stories they're interested in, Mr. Dyer said.
In shifting its strategy, the Morning News, which was among the first papers to ask readers to pay for access online, is now the second major daily in a month to rethink its pay wall. The San Francisco Chronicle made its content free online last month.
The Morning News, however, is following an approach that's more akin to the Boston Globe, which operates a premium site with unfettered Globe content and limited advertising, but also offers the free Boston.com, with more ads and limited Globe stories. The Morning News will have one site, with premium content available to subscribers once they log in.
Print subscribers automatically get access to the forthcoming premium site. Digital subscriptions will cost others $2.99 per week, the company said.
A loyalty program tied to the subscriptions will offer perks such as tickets to the State Fair of Texas and exclusive access to Morning News events, the paper said. That's similar to the approach at the Orange County Register, which earlier this year began charging for access to content online but gives subscribers extras like the chance for free tickets to Anaheim Angels games.
The Morning News is the nation's eighth largest newspaper with a print and digital circulation of 697,717 in March 2013, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. That marks a 0.7% decline from the previous year, according to figures filed with the auditing group.
"In the first quarter of 2011, we became one of the first daily newspapers to ask consumers to pay for the content we distributed digitally," said Jim Moroney, the paper's CEO and publisher, in a statement about the new change. "Now, we are going to experiment with another approach."