Denver Post CEO Mac Tully on new paywall, taking over from Dean Singleton
We recently spoke with Dean Singleton about his decision to retire as MediaNews Group chairman and Denver Post publisher next month. Regarding the latter, Singleton said, "It's Mac's newspaper now."
More photos below.
Mac is Post CEO Mac Tully, Singleton's successor as publisher -- and the man charged with overseeing a just-announced metered paywall that will end unfettered free online access to the paper. This week, we chatted with Tully about the paywall and succeeding Singleton. Here's what he had to say.
The paywall move is being made by all of the newspapers (including the Post) owned by Digital First Media, the company that encompasses MediaNews Group. According to the paper, non-subscribers will be able to view "25 articles on the desktop website or 99 articles on mobile devices" without charge. But if they want to see more, it'll cost them $11.99 per month for a digital-only subscription, or a new customer rate of $5.50 per week for a print-and-digital subscription, with other packages available.
Until recently, Digital First CEO John Paton had a reputation of being rigorously anti-paywall, and in a blog post about the new policy, he doesn't exactly sound like a true believer. He writes in part, "Let's be clear, paid digital subscriptions are not a long-term strategy. They don't transform anything; they tweak. At best, they are a short-term tactic. I have said that often enough in the past. But it's a tactic that will help us now."
As for Tully, former president and publisher of the San Jose Mercury News, who took over as Post CEO around five months ago, he sounds considerably less conflicted about the approach.
"This has been an evolving discussion for a couple of years," he says. "As you know, there have been a number of different newspapers and newspaper organizations that have gone this route prior to us that we've obviously been watching with interest. Then, about six months ago, we began to have more earnest discussions around this -- so it's not something that just crept up. In fact, it's a discussion the newspaper industry should have probably looked at a lot harder over a decade ago."
When paywalls were brought up back then as a way to staunch the red ink flowing from the newspaper industry, plenty of observers responded with the horse-is-out-of-the-barn analogy -- i.e., customers who've grown accustomed to getting their online content for free won't be happy if they're suddenly asked to pay for it. Tully doesn't dismiss this take out of hand.
"You can certainly argue both sides of it," he acknowledges, "and I think there are valid arguments on both sides. But it's exciting for us, because it's an opportunity to really recognize the fact that we have Pulitzer Prize-winning content that's valuable and unique. And charging your print audience for it while giving it away for free online is a flawed strategy in my opinion.
"I was out with an advertiser over five years ago," he continues, "and he made a comment that really resonated with me. He said, 'Mac, I know how valuable your print audience is, because they're willing to pay hundreds of dollars a year for something I can go online and get for free.' And that resonated, because we work so hard to create unique, valuable content that's valuable to readers, and yet we turn around and give it away online."
Another look at Mac Tully.
That's simplifying things, of course. The online content is supported by advertising -- but the rates for online ads are much lower than those for the physical newspaper. Paton's phrase for the phenomenon, repeated in his most recent post: "Print dollars are becoming digital dimes."
The paywall is intended to supplement those dimes. "We're going to create this content and produce it on the print side," Tully says, "but also on the web page and on our apps and all the different devices people access. And how people choose to access that information is really their choice, which is a really cool thing. They can choose the platform, they can choose where they consume it, and they can get all that for one price."
At the time of our conversation, Tully hadn't gotten a lot of external feedback about the paywall notion. But the reaction from employees has been mostly positive, he maintains.
Continue for more of our interview with Denver Post CEO Mac Tully.