What to Expect From the Sun-Sentinel Paywall

The Sun-Sentinel announced last week that its website would soon have a shiny new feature -- a paywall, erected around the main daily paper serving Broward County.

The paper will start "offering memberships" on Monday, though details have been in a letter to readers from Publisher Howard Greenberg that outlined what you weren't going to get anymore if you didn't pony up. It looks like pretty much all of it. There's no indication of how much it will cost or how the wall will work, but it's likely to be similar to the paywalls of its sister papers owned by the Tribune Co.

The Los Angeles Times paywall went up March 5 and costs $3.99 a week, or $1.99 a week if you get the Sunday paper. (That's not an error; there are a ton of ads in that Sunday edition.) It also gives readers 15 free articles per month before they're told they need to pay.

The Baltimore Sun paywall gives a similar 15 free articles and costs $2.49 a week but also charges print subscribers for use of the website. It's easier to compare the Sun-Sentinel to the Sun (and not just because of the names) -- according to numbers published last spring, the Sun-Sentinel has a circulation of around 175,000, while the Sun had about 195,000. The L.A. Times is way off in the distance with 605,000.

Both paywalls differ from the high-profile implementation of the one at the New York Times for being "non-porous": While the New York Times has a limit on how many articles you read for free, if you get to an article from a link on Twitter or Facebook, it doesn't count toward your total. Not so with the Tribune walls.

Of course, there are ways to steal anything -- you can tweak Times URLs to get around their limits and clear your browser cookies to get around the (existing) Tribune pay systems, but that's not the point. As Felix Salmon pointed out in Wired last year:

Here's the thing about freeloaders: if they value what they're getting, a lot of them will end up paying anyway. What happened when the Indianapolis Museum of Art moved to a free-admission policy? Its paid membership increased by 3%. When the Minneapolis Institute of Arts did the same thing, paid membership increased by 33%.

Sales people and business-side executes tend to believe as a matter of faith that if people can get something for free, they won't pay for it. But all they need to do is look at their own behavior to see how that isn't true... A large segment of the population feels that it's only proper to pay for something if you're getting value from it -- and if you invite as many people as possible onto your lawn, that's a great way of maximizing the number of people who get value from it. 

But he was also talking about the New York Times model that allowed people to link to stories for free -- that part about people on your lawn and stuff. He was also talking about the New York Freaking Times, a 161-year-old publication distributed across the globe, not a paper out of Fort Lauderdale with one-fifth of its print circulation.

Who knows; maybe the Sun-Sentinel paywall won't look anything like the others. But it looks like they want to surprise us.

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