In the past 24 hours I have received -- at last count -- 43 email messages from readers who are concerned with the new pay-access plan that is now in place at the Cape Cod Times. I understand the concern that this is causing, but it is not as bad as it may seem.
First, it is not completely restricted to pay-for-access -- there are actually three levels of access:
(1) Unregistered Access -- visitors who have not registered an account at the paper are allowed to access up to 3 articles a month for free, based upon the computer that they access the paper from. So if you access the paper's site from your work system, you get three articles, and then if you access it from home, you have three more.
(2) Registered Access -- Visitors who have registered an account at the paper's site have access to 10 articles every month. Registering for an account is free, but requires you to provide a valid, working email account from which you can verify the registration.
(3) Subscriber Access -- Visitors who have registered a free account and then chosen to subscribe (pay) have unrestricted access to the online version of the paper each month.
That basically sums up the situation. The subscription service only applies to the newspaper content on the site -- the articles and content that are from the print version of the paper -- and not the regular online content, like the Blogs, and the chat section.
It may feel like this is a hassle, but the reality is simply that charging for access to the content on the site is a necessary evil -- in this economy there are more people accessing the online version of the newspaper than there are people who subscribe to the print version, that is a reality. The Cape Cod Times resisted moving to a pay-for-access format for a long time -- much longer than most papers in our region.
On the flip-side of the coin is the fact that a paid subscription base also means that they will be able to expand the content that is published in the online version to be more in parity to the print version, so in that respect, this is a good thing.
Change is often a disturbing element of life, and like a lot of people, I am not a big fan of abrupt change -- and this move felt to me like it was abrupt despite the fact that I knew it was coming a month ago. Still, I am hoping that it turns out to be a good thing! Anything that improves the economic health of the paper is a good thing in my eyes, and honestly, I can see the day coming when most newspapers are not newspapers, but websites.
With the increasing popularity of digital electronic publishing, hand-held book and newspaper readers, and the inevitable expansion and refinement of that technology, it really is only a matter of time before the printed newspaper disappears from the American landscape. I will be sad to see that day come, and I do believe that this change is the first harbinger of that change, but as a wise man once said, you cannot stop progress.