Why we’re starting a paywall, and what you should know about it

Why we’re starting a paywall, and what you should know about it
Photo by Andrew Neel / Unsplash

“The news should be free.”

This is a sentiment you run into on social media from time to time, especially if you are a journalist posting news that is not free.

I respectfully disagree. Yes, local news is important, sometimes vital. It’s for that very reason that it makes sense to put it behind a paywall.

The Delaware Independent has been offering free articles since it began in August, but the plan has always been to start offering subscriber-only stories eventually. First, I wanted to get the word out about this new venture and give people a chance to see what kind of stories the Independent has to offer.

Beginning next week, some of our stories will be available to paying subscribers only. Eventually, most of our stories will be behind a paywall.

As a former co-worker of mine has noted, the more important news is, the more outraged people tend to get that they have to pay to read it.

And who can blame them? Newspapers have been offering free online articles for decades, a business move that is a bit baffling to put it charitably. Newspapers have also, not shockingly, been going out of business for decades.

This logic of a free product does not work for print copies of newspapers, of course, or pretty much any other product you might want. Those interested in experimenting could try grabbing a couple of cans of soup off their local grocery store shelf and walking out with them. “Of course I didn’t pay,” they can tell the cashier. “I have to eat or I’ll starve!”

(I don’t recommend doing this.)

Business newspaper pages
Photo by AbsolutVision / Unsplash

It’s true that online news is not as costly to produce as a print paper. You don’t need a printing press or delivery drivers. But websites and other tools of the trade do cost money, even though it’s not as much, and it takes a lot of time and energy to produce online news just the same as print news. This is my full time job, and I also don’t ask freelance writers to work for free.

Print newspapers always made a lot of money with ads, though, so why can’t a digital site do the same? Suffice it to say that if digital ads paid the bills, I’d probably still be working at a traditional newspaper and not typing this column. You can read more about that here.

A different way to do local news: Why The Delaware Independent?
The story of local newspapers has read like an obituary over the past few decades. Profits plummet. Print editions get thinner and thinner. Offices cut staff, making delivery and customer service frustrating and unreliable. What’s left, eventually, are “ghost papers” with few or no local staff, fil…

I appreciate everyone who has signed up for an email subscription so far, paying or not. For those who have the free version, you don’t need to take any action or worry that you’ll suddenly start being charged. You’ll just start seeing fewer emails from The Delaware Independent and if you go to the website you won’t be able to read the subscriber-only stories there either.

If you follow our social media pages, you may start seeing fewer links to our stories there as well. I get that it can be frustrating to click on a link and hit the paywall, so the plan is to just let readers know that the story is available and direct them to the site if they’re interested.

For now, some stories including the weekly roundup of local news and events will continue to be free. Also, if you can’t afford $5 a month, drop me a line at asharp@delawareindependent.com and tell me about your situation; we may be able to work something out.

We offer different membership options, including the free version I mentioned earlier. You can sign up for the Independent’s free emails, and will never be charged unless you decide later to opt for a paying plan.

Readers can also subscribe for $5 a month/$50 a year, or choose to support this project at a higher level with a partner subscription of $10 a month/$100 a year.

If $5 a month for news seems like a lot, consider other products you buy regularly like coffee, groceries or haircuts that cost significantly more. The way inflation’s going right now, we might have to also add items like gum and paper clips to that list.

Again, thanks for your interest in the Delaware Independent. We’d love to have you as a paying subscriber.

Read more about our subscription options here.

A sampling of our work:

Help wanted: Why a teacher shortage has gotten worse
Stuck at home with kids and helping them do virtual school during the pandemic, many parents came to a new appreciation for what teachers do. The people in charge of hiring teachers in Delaware appreciate them too, but they have a problem. For years now they’ve been having real
From plague to prize: How the conversation is shifting on this invasive species
It’s not often that government officials encourage the public to kill wildlife, but it’s becoming more common as more invasive species take hold. “If you catch a snakehead in Delaware, you should kill it,” the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) says bluntly on…
Delmar police dispute: A saga too big for one state
Before Cpl. Keith Heacook was beaten to death and died alone on a housing development floor, few people cared about whether or not the Delmar police should be able to unionize. It was a question the town had toyed with on and off for more than two decades, mostly finding
Life in a nursing home in the time of COVID
It can be easy to see the COVID-19 pandemic in bar charts and line graphs instead of a collection of human stories. We’re flooded with data on COVID cases by state, county, zip code; average cases per day, hospitalizations, deaths. The big question of how to respond to the
Willey Knives: The small-town knife shop with national reach
It would be possible to stumble across Willey Knives accidentally, but it’s not very likely. Every day, lines of cars flow by not far away, from hordes of tourists heading to the beach on Route 16 to clumps of tractor-trailers and commuters riding each other’s bumpers up and
Just a hand up: Evelyn Wilson’s relentless service
Some people move around to try to find a better neighborhood. Evelyn Wilson stays where she is and tries to make her neighborhood better. Wilson is a bit of a legend in the small Coverdale Crossroads community tucked away off Route 404 east of Bridgeville. She serves as a community
The plan to transform Route 113
One hobby picked up by more and more southern Delaware residents in recent years is staring at brake lights. Many would prefer to try something new, like getting to destinations on time. That’s a goal the Department of Transportation would like to help with, and among a slew of
Why there’s a bus driver shortage, and possible ways to fix it
The kids are back in school — but getting them to and from the building has been a headache, just as the prophecies this summer foretold. It’s a problem years in the making and a lot of issues converged to make it the huge headache it is now, industry insiders