February 25th, 2013 by Clark Humphrey

So it has come to this. The Seattle Times, unable (just as most all metro dailies are unable) to survive on shrinking print-ad volume and meager online-ad revenue, is resorting to the “paywall.”

Starting some time in mid-March, full access to the Times website will be restricted to paid subscribers.

Print subscribers will get full online access. Online-only subscriptions will be available at $3.99 per week (following an initial discount). That’s higher than the Sunday-only print subscription price, at least within King County. This is undoubtedly devised to prop up the paper’s print numbers, particularly on ad-flyer-heavy Sunday.

In announcing the paywall on Sunday, Times executive editor David Boardman wrote that the money’s needed “to support quality journalism.” The essay’s comment thread, natch, is full of wags snarking that “quality journalism” is worth paying for but the Seattle Times isn’t.

Even more than some metro dailies, the Seattle Times has painted itself into this corner, over many years.

It’s held to a bland, institutional ethic and aesthetic; even as its average reader became older, squarer, and whiter than the metro area’s overall demographic.

Its editorials hewed as close to a GOP party line as the Blethen family dared, in a solid-Blue city.

Faced with ever-declining revenues, it chose not to “reinvent” itself. Instead it became an ever-smaller version of its same-old same-old.

One issue this past month hit a new low of 22 pages (the bare minimum under its current design).

If there’s anything I’ve learned in my many years of studying the media, it’s that if you want to be “supported,” you’ve got to make people actively want to support you.

A thin assortment of lifeless stories about the ritual dances of politicians and corporate press releases ain’t gonna accomplish that.

(Meanwhile, one national commentator claims paywalls aren’t really working so well for non-national, non-business-centric papers.)

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