It’s official. USA TODAY is joining other national dailies and putting its premium content behind a paywall. Owned by Gannett, the 40-year-old national newspaper will still offer some free content, but other content will include exclusive, subscriber-only content such as investigative journalism, visual explainers and “immersive storytelling.” Maribel Perez Wadsworth, USA TODAY publisher and Gannett’s director of news, and Nicole Carroll, USA TODAY editor-in-chief, made the announcement to readers on Wednesday.
“We’ve become part of your daily news habit, and we’re honored to serve you. Now we’re asking our readers to help support premium journalism,” said Perez Wadsworth and Carroll. “Much of the content on USA TODAY will still be free. But you’ll find a selection of stories each day marked ‘subscriber only.’ These will be exclusive investigations, sophisticated visual explainers, thought-provoking takes on the news and immersive storytelling.”
“This is a big change; our digital news has always been free. But USA TODAY was founded on boldness. Your subscription is an investment in quality journalism that’s worth paying for, journalism that strengthens our communities and our nation. And we’ve got big plans,” Perez Wadsworth and Carroll added.
USA TODAY currently attracts approximately 90 million unique visitors per month to its digital platforms. This could translate into big bucks, depending on how many of those visitors convert into paid readers. The national newspaper is offering promotional pricing for three months to new subscribers, starting at $4.99 a month. When the promotional period ends, pricing starts at $9.99 a month for the digital all access subscription plan.
Breaking news still free
The New York Times reports that the paywall will affect all of its readers, but it will not cover all articles. For example, breaking news will still be free. Gannett has been testing a paywall for USA TODAY over the last several months. During the test, subscribers spent at least 20 percent more time reading than anonymous readers. In an interview, Perez Wadsworth said, “When we focus on what’s unique and exclusive to us, our readers do make choices to subscribe.”
Each subscriber-only story on the USA TODAY website is clearly marked as “subscribe to view,” and it is a bit of an odd mix. For example, on the tech page, you have to be a subscriber to read a story about Gig Hadid’s hiding her face only and USA TODAY staff picks for the best Smash Bros characters, but a story about Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson going into space this month is free. Here is what the home page of USA TODAY looked like yesterday afternoon.
This news shouldn’t take any newspaper readers by surprise. First, most, if not all of Gannett’s 250 daily newspapers, already operate paywalls, including the Arizona Republic and the Detroit Free Press. Second, subscriptions are a solid revenue stream, which is often far more reliable than other revenue streams, like display advertising for example, something many newspapers learned the hard way during COVID. Sure, USA TODAY will lose some readers, but those who value what the media organization produces will pay for it. With a competitive price point, a subscription will not break any reader’s bank and those subscription fees collectively will throw USA TODAY a financial lifeline.