OVER the last four weeks, I have talked to many of our readers, most of whom were responding to price increases that we began to implement in November.
While most are unhappy about paying more for the newspaper, I have been invigorated to hear from many about how important The Free Lance–Star is to them, how much they believe in the value of local journalism and that most are willing to pay more. We understand the vital role we play in the community and remain committed to providing the essential coverage needed to help readers understand what is going on in this area and make informed decisions about its future direction.
One of those dedicated readers I spoke to renewed his subscription, but explained that he was upset because the increase came as a surprise. He suggested that we provide all readers with an explanation for the increase, and I agreed.
I don’t think it will be a surprise to anyone that the newspaper industry is changing as more and more readers choose to move from print to digital delivery. Many readers are choosing to go online for their news and information.
We see this as our page views, digital-only subscribers and Facebook followers grow at double-digit rates every year. When we put Free Lance–Star readers and fredericksburg.com users together, our content reaches more people than ever before. That is great news, as it tells us that the information we’re providing continues to be important.
The change that is having the greatest impact on newspapers today is that national retailers and advertisers continue to close their doors, cut back on print advertising and move their digital ads to national platforms. For decades, these national advertisers covered a large part of the costs of putting out a daily newspaper. As a result, newspapers charged readers very little for a subscription that included delivery to their home 365 days a year—rain or shine, and sometimes even snow.
Local advertising, from businesses that are mostly owned or operated in the Fredericksburg region, continues to be strong and we continue to see tremendous growth in digital advertising. But that growth is not enough to offset the losses in national advertising. So to cover the cost of providing local news and information to our community with an outstanding team of journalists, we are forced to raise newspaper subscription prices.
Today, our advertising revenue represents 60 percent of our total newspaper revenue, which means subscribers provide the remaining 40 percent. Just a decade ago, subscriptions accounted for 20 percent of revenue, or less.
That’s why we are increasing newspaper subscription rates, and in some cases by significant percentages. Frankly, that is the cost of local journalism today.
When you get that bill, I ask you to take that rate, divide by the number of days in the period it covers and then ask yourself: Is that amount, which is less than the cost of a cup of coffee every day, worth having a team of dedicated journalists covering your community?
That includes the good news and bad, including government, police, courts, high school sports and some of the positive things people in the community are doing. It also includes the top state, national and international news of the day; regular features such as comics, puzzles and TV listings; and special products such as our new Better section, Discover magazine, Salute to Veterans and the annual calendar and Christmas songbook, just to name a few.
When you factor in all that, along with the cost of having it printed and then driven to your home every day, I’m confident you’ll find that The Free Lance–Star is well worth the cost.
Despite the challenges that force us to make these difficult decisions, The Free Lance–Star is still healthy and strong. We appreciate the loyalty our readers have shown over the years, and with your support, we will continue to be a vital part of this community. We look forward to continuing to be your essential source of news and information for a long time to come.