San Francisco Chronicle Drops Paywall

By dumping its own revenue enhancement experiment, the San Francisco Chronicle has joined many other newspapers that tried and failed to improve revenue by instituting an online paywall.

As traditional print media struggles to find its way in this increasingly digital world, some newspapers have experimented with paywalls, gating content on their websites behind a payed subscription. Few, however, have found success with the experiment; the San Franciso Chronicle joins the growing list of such failed attempts.

On August 13, the Chronicle announced that starting this week all its content will be available online at SFGate.com, effectively ending its paywall.

The paywall lasted just over four months after being implemented on March 24, 2013.

The first to announce the end of the paywall was former Chronicle staffer Casey Newton, whose afternoon tweet read: "SF Chronicle readers: the paper has abandoned its four-month old paywall program. All stories now available at http://sfgate.com."

By that same evening, the paper itself confirmed the change with a statement by publisher Jeffery Johnson.

Statement from Jeffrey Johnson, Publisher, and Joanne Bradford, President, San Francisco Chronicle/SFGate.com

We are now publishing content from the San Francisco Chronicle on SFChronicle.com and SFGate. Our goal is to offer readers as many choices as possible to access our content when and how they want it. SFGate will continue to provide readers with a broad spectrum of content as well as all Chronicle reports and columns.

The SFChronicle.com site will continue to provide readers with an online version that replicates a newspaper experience and reflects the changes in the news throughout the day. We will continue to increase the unique assets that distinguish SFChronicle.com, including design features, utility and unique offerings to subscribers that differentiates it from our other content platforms.

Paywalls have often proven a financial loser for those newspapers that have tried it. Worse, by sectioning off the paper's content to a dwindling number of readers, paywalled papers become less relevant to the larger debate both nationally and locally.

But as papers across the country close their spacious HQs and move into smaller facilities, newsroom jobs hit a 35-year low, ad revenues plummet, and circulation numbers drop, more and more papers have begun to shut down their presses for the last time, making the concept of a paywall appealing in principle.

Photo credit: Julian Dunn/Flickr


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