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.
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.