News

Palo Alto Online launches 'pay meter'

After reading 25 stories each month, readers will have option of subscribing or making micro-payments

Frequent visitors to Palo Alto Online will soon need to either become subscribing members to obtain full access to unlimited online content or purchase individual stories as they read them.

The new "pay meter" system is similar to what many other media websites, including The New York Times, have instituted over the last few years in order to increase revenue from readers and reduce their reliance on advertising.

The pay-per-story "micropayment" option is a new but growing phenomenon in the media world, as publishers try to offer payment alternatives to subscriptions.

Palo Alto Online visitors who are already subscribing members to the printed Palo Alto Weekly through the Support Local Journalism program will have full access to all of Palo Alto Online without additional payment, but they will need to create a user account and log in.

"Unlike most newspapers, which have cut back on the breadth of their local news coverage, we have worked hard to maintain and increase the level of professional reporting desired by our steadily growing print and online readership," said Bill Johnson, president of Embarcadero Media, which publishes the Palo Alto Weekly and Palo Alto Online.

"But as local retailers feel the squeeze of online sellers and big box stores, the growth in revenue we need in order to meet our expenses and to expand our coverage of the community needs to come from those who directly benefit from it – our loyal readers," Johnson said. "Many of our most avid online readers have not yet become subscribing members and many don't even realize it. That's the group we need to convert into regularly paying members."

Visitors to Palo Alto Online will be able to view 25 stories per month before being required to pay, although this number will be adjusted downward over time. Not all content counts toward the limit; views of the event calendar, sports scores, obituaries and Fogster classifieds are all exempt. Return visits to a story already viewed also do not count, so a reader can make and follow comments in Town Square without using up his or her monthly quota of free stories.

Readers will be able to choose between a 7-day pass for $2, a month pass for $6 or an annual subscription/membership for $60 (which includes delivery of the Palo Alto Weekly to those living in Palo Alto, Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Los Altos Hills, Portola Valley and Atherton.) An auto-pay plan for $5 per month is also available.

Those who become subscribing members on Palo Alto Online will also have unlimited free access to Embarcadero Media's other websites, including Mountain View Online and the AlmanacNews.com.

Only subscribing members will be able to access stories that are more than three months old from the online archives of the Palo Alto Weekly, although individual stories may be purchased for 25 cents.

The pay meter system is now in operation, but frequent visitors will not encounter it for several days or weeks, depending on the number of stories they typically view each day. An opportunity to subscribe will appear after 15 stories have been viewed and then a counter is displayed that shows the cumulative number of stories read.

The Palo Alto Weekly was the first newspaper in the United States to publish its content on the web in 1994. Palo Alto Online today attracts more than 180,000 unique visitors each month, most of them from the immediate local area.

While pay metering systems are in widespread use on websites operated by daily newspapers, the Embarcadero Media websites are the first known websites of weekly newspapers in the United States to implement such a system.

Embarcadero Media's pay metering system is being implemented through San Francisco-based CoinTent, a micropayment and subscription paywall service.

Readers with questions or having difficulty with setting up accounts should email info@paloaltoonline.com or read the frequently asked questions page.

- Palo Alto Online staff

Comments

30 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 18, 2016 at 9:18 am

Lots of questions here:

My main concern is security. Since the security attack a few months ago, anyone registering here is much more likely to have had their security compromised.

If we pay, does that mean we don't get the advertising too?

Is this 25 per month just for news articles or is it for topics posted by readers also?

Is this 25 per month just "today's news" or is it for archived news too?

How can you control this when many of us use several devices to access PAO?

What happens if someone buys a new phone, or laptop, or Ipad?

Are you trying to stop discussion or just gain revenue?

How do you track usage of an individual when multiple people use the same device, say at a library, or a household with one computer?

How do you track usage when many people read while away on business or vacation, often overseas, and want to stay abreast of local events?

I am sure there are a plethora of comments by others. Since Palo Alto online is used and commented on so much more than the Voice and Almanac, are they going to be subject to the same?


10 people like this
Posted by Flash
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 18, 2016 at 9:33 am

How much for an annual subscription without killing trees?


82 people like this
Posted by William Randolph Hearst
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 18, 2016 at 9:40 am

This is too funny. Paying to read storiesfrom the weekly? Does Johnson really want to compare the weekly to the NY times? Of course one of the key points I will disagree with is the claim that the weekly provides" professional" reporting. I have always felt that the weekly has been one sided and biased. And of course not anything I would want to pay for. [Portion removed.]


33 people like this
Posted by Mac Clayton
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 18, 2016 at 9:41 am

Make even more: charge for comments. :)


7 people like this
Posted by Bill Johnson
publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Feb 18, 2016 at 10:13 am

Bill Johnson is a registered user.

@Resident

Thanks for all your questions. I urge you to read the FAQ Web Link we prepared for details of how the system works.

Regarding security, the cyber attack last September affected our website files. There was no evidence of any access to the separate server that contained registered user information. However, one of the benefits of our new system is that it provides the most modern encrypted protections available and is not maintained on our file servers but by our third party vendor, CoinTent.

Subscribers will be able to access stories on any device they use once they log in with their username and password, just as you can with other media sites such as the New York Times. The device will remember this login information if you permit it to and don't log out when you leave our site, so that it will automatically log you in on your next visit.

As explained in the FAQ, return visits to a story already viewed don't count again, so Town Square posters can keep checking and commenting on that thread without using up their 25-story allowance. In the end, however, we hope and believe that most regular users of Town Square will subscribe for $5 a month.

It is too complicated to get into technical details of how the system keeps track of stories viewed, but suffice to say that if you really want to try and defeat the system it's possible to do so. We're counting on the fact that most of our regular readers actually value our website or they wouldn't be using it so much, and that they will respect the fact it costs us a lot to do what we do and not try to game the system.


45 people like this
Posted by Mjm1
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 18, 2016 at 10:44 am

Mjm1 is a registered user.

I am not a resident of Palo Alto but live in the PA School District. This is the ONLY place where I can get information about what is happening in our schools. I think this subscription idea does a huge disservice to those people who find PA politics entertaining but not really relevant (thus 90% of what you cover is not needed) but do need to keep up to date with what is going on in the schools.

As noted above, comparing yourself to the NY Times is a big stretch--I don't even put the San Jose Mercury in the same category as the NY Times, and you are not up to their standards either!


11 people like this
Posted by Bill Johnson
publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Feb 18, 2016 at 11:00 am

Bill Johnson is a registered user.

@Mjm1

Thanks for sharing your perspective and concerns. I'm happy that you rely on Palo Alto Online for information on the schools. This kind of coverage doesn't come without substantial costs, however, and advertising alone doesn't keep up with the costs of employing quality journalists. Like a subscription to anything, you'll have to decide whether the stories we write are worth $5 a month to you.

We're not the New York Times nor do we try to be. The point is that the Times has demonstrated that when readers value an online service they will pay for it (a lot more than $5 in the case of the Times.) This is where all of journalism is headed, and each person will need to decide how important local journalism is to them.


22 people like this
Posted by ClayL
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 18, 2016 at 11:30 am

ClayL is a registered user.

Full disclosure: While I live in Palo Alto, I work for another newspaper. One that does not currently have a metered paywall. But I guess I don't understand the blowback. It's a service. If you don't want it, don't pay for it. Are there other service providers who give you 25 units of something every month for free before asking you to pay anything? Maybe so, but I can't think of many.

The Palo Alto Weekly is not The New York Times. But it is far and away the best source of local news in Palo Alto. Trust me when I say it's one of he best local news sites in the country. I learn about breaking news here, about candidates for office, transportation policy, Stanford athletics, things to do ... To me, that is worth something.


22 people like this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 18, 2016 at 11:30 am

Fred is a registered user.

I agree this is the way web journalism is going - in addition to the NY Times, the Washington Post, Boston Globe, and I'm sure many other papers are following this pay-wall model. It can get annoying, when you are used to free - kind of like plastic bags! - but it makes sense. Time will tell if the price is right and whether the market wants to pay - the NYTimes, for instance is $3.75 per WEEK, which is over $150 a year; the Boston Globe is $3.99 per WEEK, so >$200 a year; the SF Chronicle is $99 a year. So it is certainly priced at a discount to national or regional publications.

The Weekly isn't the NYT of course or even the Globe or the Chronicle, but it provides a unique service to the community that is vastly better than what many much larger cities and town have today. I will personally give it a try.


28 people like this
Posted by L middle school parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 18, 2016 at 11:44 am

L middle school parent is a registered user.

I think this is a terrible idea! I understand that $5/month is very little, but I try to sign up for as few re-occuring costs as possible and this is definitely not one I would sign up for, nor would I pay per story. This is a huge shame and mistake as I believe the community will suffer by not having easy access to our community's news and events. Find more advertisers, but don't make community news only for those who can and are willing to afford it. You are not the New York Times, sorry, I actually do subscribe to that.


7 people like this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 18, 2016 at 1:04 pm

Fred is a registered user.

@L middle school parent - it looks like the first 25 articles/month are still free.

In my experience, pretty much everything not taxpayer supported is "only for those who can and are willing to afford it" - that's just the way the world works. Real newspapers have certainly never been free.


21 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 18, 2016 at 2:37 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The great advantage of this approach is that people will pay for quality reporting and if there is no quality reporting then they won't pay.

Under the current free model there is no way for the consumer to place value on quality reporting.

And since it is difficult, but not impossible, for people to pay anonymously so a pay system may well also improve the quality of the Forum postings.


16 people like this
Posted by Nayeli P.
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 18, 2016 at 2:52 pm

Nayeli P. is a registered user.

@ Peter Carpenter: I agree with the gist of what you're saying. However, I've noticed that some pay-per-view news websites (or advertisement based websites) often begin meandering toward tabloid journalism. There is a tendency to push more and more articles that make the most money (i.e., those that elicit responses BECAUSE they are controversial, offensive to many or appeal to the views and beliefs of the largest number of subscribers or those willing to plop down money to participate in the discussion). Newspapers and websites then turn to click-bait and dirges about political or social bias are sung with evidence found at the source.

I've seen newspaper websites try a subscription model in the past. Outside of the handful of major newspapers with a dedicated subscription base, I haven't seen this model really work for small, moderate or even many large town newspapers -- at least not any better than those that use a traditional ad-based web model.

It will be interesting to see where this goes. I suppose that this will impact lower and middle income families in Palo Alto more than any others. It will also diminish their voices to the types of discussions and debates. $60 per year may not sound like a lot of money -- but that is precisely the point. Believe it or not, there are people living in Palo Alto for which $60 is a lot of money that might better be spent elsewhere. Moreover, it is no longer just about the control of the news itself but the flow and access to it.


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 18, 2016 at 3:56 pm

Curmudgeon is a registered user.

"Under the current free model there is no way for the consumer to place value on quality reporting."

"place value on" = "monetize"

To actually place value on reporting in a free market, the reader would negotiate the payment with the publisher after reading each article. The word "quality" is deliberately omitted.


9 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 18, 2016 at 4:05 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" the reader would negotiate the payment with the publisher AFTER reading each article"


Why would anyone agree to sell anything if the price was only negotiated after the "buyer" had already eaten the meal, spent the night, flown the route etc?


2 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 18, 2016 at 4:57 pm

Marc Vincenti is a registered user.

Hi, Onliners,

Well, I once saw a "Weekly" reporter come out of a shop, munching on a (glazed) donut, and I thought that had really crossed a line. "Why should I support this kind of extravagant journalism?" I thought.

But that's only a cavil.

On the whole, I rejoice every week in the "Weekly"--its remarkable comprehensiveness, astute reporting, clear writing, well-informed opinions--and hope the community will feel good about doing what we need to do to sustain such a valuable anchor for our town.

Sincerely,

Marc Vincenti
Campaign Coordinator
Save the 2,008


23 people like this
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2016 at 7:11 pm

pearl is a registered user.

Adios Bill Johnson and Palo Alto Online!!! Why would we pay to read the online news when thousands of other publications offer the online news for free?


8 people like this
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 18, 2016 at 7:16 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


4 people like this
Posted by Sequoia
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 18, 2016 at 9:27 pm

Sequoia is a registered user.

What is the monthly or annual fee pay for- just unlimited online access?

Will the PA Weekly still be delivered to each Palo Alto home for free?

Will the newspaper boxes be converted to require coins?

I would think that the cost to print and deliver the paper would exceed the cost to post online articles, but I could be wrong.


4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 18, 2016 at 10:33 pm

Curmudgeon is a registered user.

"Why would anyone agree to sell anything if the price was only negotiated after the "buyer" had already eaten the meal, spent the night, flown the route etc?"

Or read the article.

Only someone who is confident of their product and their customers.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 19, 2016 at 9:10 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Please provide one documented example of a profitable company that does not require people to pay for its products before they consume/use the product.


7 people like this
Posted by clear cookies
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 19, 2016 at 9:22 am

clear cookies is a registered user.

Peter, really? Let's see, ah yes: Google! As always if you don't pay for the product, you are the product!

In any case, this isn't going to raise money. for two reasons:
#1 They give the paper away for free! No one's going to pay for on-line version. If they charged a subscription for the paper, like the NYT, then they could get away with it
#2 The whole concept requires tracking requires information to be stored on the client, in the browser. There are so many loopholes around that that only those who want to pay will pay, which brings you back to #1

Any way, good luck with it!


8 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 19, 2016 at 9:32 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

How wonderful that the pay meter policy may well separate the wheat from the chaff.

And anyone who thinks that they are not paying in advance for their use of Google does not value their own time or understand Google's business model.


4 people like this
Posted by clear cookies
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 19, 2016 at 11:35 am

clear cookies is a registered user.

Peter, I fully understand Google's business model. You, and the Weekly, apparently do not.


3 people like this
Posted by rick
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 19, 2016 at 4:49 pm

rick is a registered user.

Seems to me that many of the commenters are already adding value by providing informative or amusing content, and clarifying or correcting the news stories. I'd assume the number of repeat views on each article would decline considerably without the comments.

On the other hand I recognize the time and effort the editors/moderators must be putting into enforcing the terms of use and policing objectionable content.


4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 19, 2016 at 9:39 pm

Curmudgeon is a registered user.

"Please provide one documented example of a profitable company that does not require people to pay for its products before they consume/use the product."

Um, Spago's?

Peninsula Fountain? Carpaccio? Saint Michael's Alley? Jason's?


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 19, 2016 at 9:56 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Only a deadbeat would refuse to pay for something which they had ordered at Spago's, Peninsula Fountain, Carpaccio, Saint Michael's Alley or Jason's.


8 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 19, 2016 at 10:38 pm

Curmudgeon is a registered user.

"Only a deadbeat would refuse to pay for something which they had ordered at Spago's, Peninsula Fountain, Carpaccio, Saint Michael's Alley or Jason's."

You got a valid answer to the question you asked. You did not stipulate you had to like the answer. Be content.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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