the news frontier

This Paywall is Sorry for Your Loss

July 12, 2010

Poynter’s Bill Mitchell reports on the first online news site to go public with “Press+,” the metered paywall system by Journalism Online. On Monday, the Pennsylvania news site LancasterOnline “began informing people who live outside Lancaster County and read its online obituary listings that visiting the obits page will cost $1.99 a month after they’ve viewed seven pages each month. Annual subscriptions cost $19.99.”

Mitchell’s article discusses the paper’s curious decision to put the new paywall specifically on the paper’s online obituary listings, and to apply it specifically to users outside of their geographic area. The editors looked at the their Google Analytics statistics and found that “more than five percent of the 47.4 million pages served over the previous year were obits,” but “52 percent of the viewers were outside Lancaster County.”

LancasterOnline editors don’t want to alienate loyal readers by charging locals to read the obituary pages, especially since families of the deceased have to pay a fee to publish the obituaries in the first place. But, editor Eric Schreiber explains, “no part of that fee is associated with a promise to circulate that obit worldwide.” He added:

That is why I like the metered model…. It allows us to distinguish between two types of audience that obituaries attract, the bereaved and the community-minded. The mourning son who visits our site one time, or a few times, to read the obituary of his mom will not be asked to pay. The former Lancastrian who now lives in Texas and reads the obits a two or three times a week to stay in touch with her hometown will be asked to pay.

LancasterOnline would not want to appear insensitive to its readers, however, which is why a click on the Obituary page triggers the most polite and weirdly personal popup page I’ve ever seen. It reads (emphasis mine):


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Thank you for visiting the obituary pages of LancasterOnline.

If you are a new or infrequent visitor, here to read about a friend or a loved one, we extend our sympathy. There is no charge or need for a subscription.

If you are a frequent visitor, staying in touch with our community, you may read seven obituaries for free each month.

Simply click OK below to continue reading without charge. Or Sign Up for unlimited access through Press+, an online subscription service used by news organizations.

Already a Press+ Subscriber? Log In.

Lauren Kirchner is a freelance writer covering digital security for CJR. Find her on Twitter at @lkirchner