All access arrives
Seventeen years ago, the Brainerd Dispatch launched its website, offering the work of its staff to online readers at no charge.
Media companies joined movies and music in providing free online content. It wasn’t sustainable. Consumers now pay for songs and movies online and newspapers are joining that evolution. Beginning May 20, the Dispatch will join other news outlets by charging for online and mobile media access. Print subscribers will have access to all the Dispatch digital products along with their newspaper.
“Today newspaper websites are the most trusted, most often read, most in-depth and most accurate of all the types of news that are available on the Internet,” said John Gagliano, Dispatch circulation director. “Truly, today’s news is available in whatever form you want it, whenever you want it and the Dispatch has kept up with the cutting edge of technology.
“Our digital evolution is necessary for us to stay relevant in the world we live in today and will inhabit tomorrow.”
Gagliano said the commitment to gather and report news across multiple digital platforms — smartphones, the iPad edition and the electronic edition of the paper available at the Dispatch website — comes with a stark reality.
“Our digital platforms are not free, yet up to this point we have not been charging to access them as we charge for our paper edition,” Gagliano said. “In fact, we have been increasing our costs while diminishing our revenues because many people simply made the choice to get their information for free once we offered it that way.”
Now, Gagliano said, the newspaper could cut staff to the point where it is ineffective in delivering the news in any format, leaving a void that couldn’t be filled by community bloggers or other non-professional journalists, or it can begin charging for digital products.
“Beginning May 20, we will roll out our all access membership plan,” Gagliano said. “Our prices will increase, but so will the value of our products. All of our home delivery packages will increase in price by slightly less than $3 per month. That’s not really much in our world of $5 coffees.”
The all access membership plan creates a reader rewards program. The members-only discount club offers exclusive discounts with area businesses. Readers may access the discounts online or by showing a free discount card at the participating businesses.
“Using one of these offers per month will more than offset the small price increase and we have even more benefits and perks planned for the future,” Gagliano said.
Visitors to the Dispatch website will be able to see the home page, classifieds and advertising along with photo galleries at spotted.brainerddispatch.com at no charge. They will also be able to access seven articles for free each month.
In addition to the all-access plan, the Dispatch is raising daily single copy rates from 75 cents to $1 and from $1.50 to $2 for the weekend edition. The last time the Sunday single copy rate went up it was 1998 when gas was about $1 per gallon.
Gagliano said when newspapers first put up all their content for free the idea was online advertising would cover the cost. While it may cover the cost of blogging from the basement, Gagliano said it doesn’t cover the cost of maintaining a professional staff to cover news and sports for the community.
“With today’s constant thirst for information we need to reach more audiences with more information for local readers than ever before,” said Dispatch Publisher Tim Bogenschutz. “The Dispatch Internet services attract an average of well over 200,000 unique IP addresses monthly. A large growing portion of those customers are using mobile platforms to access our information. We are reaching more local readers than ever before.
“We can reach each of you. Whether by phone, tablet, computer, the newspaper or social media, you are accessing our information daily. The trick is to do it all and still have enough money to pay our employees and reinvest in our business and community.”
Bogenschutz said with all the changes in how people communicate with each other, the Dispatch has the same amount of revenue from advertising inserts as a decade ago because big box companies continue to see a return on investment. Even through a challenging recession, Bogenschutz said the Dispatch dedicated itself to reinventing and redesigning its products. The Dispatch was singled out five times in 2012 and 2013 for the Newseum’s top 10 for front page design from more than 800 newspapers from 90 countries. Coinciding with the all-access plan, the Dispatch is upgrading its iPad app to one with easier navigation and retrieval of stories from previous editions, along with highlights of coming issues.
“All of the changes we have made recently have been to rededicate ourselves and resources to better serving our communities,” Bogenschutz said.