By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

GateHouse Media to install a media gatehouse

Earlier today Media Nation obtained a copy of a message from Sean Burke, president and group publisher of GateHouse Media New England, announcing that GateHouse will experiment with metered paywalls at three of its daily papers — The MetroWest Daily News of Framingham, The Enterprise of Brockton and The Milford Daily News. At a fourth daily, The Herald News of Fall River, the company will try a premium/freemium model.

GateHouse Media, based in suburban Rochester, N.Y., owns more than 100 papers in Eastern Massachusetts, most of them weeklies. The full text of Burke’s message follows.

Gatehouse Mass. dailies going to “metered model”:

To: All GateHouse Media New England Employees
From: Sean Burke
Date: 3/4/2014
Re: The Meters Are Here!


Today we are pleased to announce that we are under taking a very important and strategic step in the  future of our business by introducing tactics to eliminate unlimited free access to our content.

Sean Burke (via LinkedIn)

Sean Burke (via LinkedIn)

For years now, it’s bothered me that we essentially undervalue the efforts of our hardworking journalists by giving away their content free on our websites. Plus, we do everything we can to drive people to our free content, through social media, promotions and more. On the circulation side the cannibalization of our own best efforts is clear to see: We ask people to pay for our print publications, while increasingly pointing them toward digital, where they can consume most if not all of the print content free.

We have been providing this value to readers and visitors for years, free of charge, and at the detriment of our core business, our paid print publications. As increasing numbers of readers choose digital options to satisfy their news and information needs, the circulation of our newspapers continues to trend downward.

No more. Today begins a paid content strategy on three of our daily newspaper sites:, and These sites will test what is called a “metered model.” Users will have access to 15 free articles each month. After reaching the limit, they will trigger a prompt that will give them a variety of payment options to allow them to continue to access content. We’re starting the meter high – allowing a higher level of free content – then we will begin to lower it, testing along the way, to find the optimum level. As always, readers can view an unlimited number of exclusive breaking news stories and community features on the home page, as well as enjoying full access to obituaries, section fronts and video.

In Fall River, at The Herald News, we’ll be testing a different model, which we refer to as “freemium/premium.” This model capitalizes upon the differing levels of consumption and engagement by our readers through versioning. We’ll continue to offer plenty of content to our more casual readers, but it will be just the basics of stories. We’ll ask readers who want a richer, more in-depth, interactive, multi-layered, and multimedia experience to join our brands as paid “members.”

In conjunction with this model we will launch a consumer loyalty and membership program, Herald News Perks, which gives “members” access to exclusive deals, contests and events beyond content.

We plan to learn a great deal from our initial venture into paid online content with these models, striving to emerge with refined approaches for what resonates in our many individual markets. Along the way, I invite your feedback on what you think works, what doesn’t and ideas for how we might continue to demonstrate the value of all of our products across all platforms.


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  1. The Eagle-Tribune website has a bottom banner with text, “Coming Soon! Total Access Subscriptions.” It begs the question as to whether a paywall of sorts is coming here.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Tim: The answer to that question is “yes.”

  2. “For years now, it’s bothered me that we essentially undervalue the efforts of our hardworking journalists by giving away their content free on our websites”

    When publishers figure out how to get their online content into my hands without my paying for devices and access plans, then I’ll consider paying them. Otherwise, they’re already free-riding on my investments.

    Do the math – readers have *never* paid for the news. Publishers who think otherwise don’t know what business they are in.

    When the print model still worked, circulation was about 20 percent of revenue. Meanwhile, print production and distribution took up 70-plus percent of (post-profit) expenses. Paper, ink, presses, trucks, fuel, electricity, and real estate, not to mention the people who did all of those jobs, were expensive.

    While a server for a website isn’t necessarily free, it’s a pittance in comparison. If publishers wanted to continue to pull in revenues related to the infrastructure of distribution, they should’ve made the investments that Internet service providers and device manufacturers made. Instead, they’re letting the reader pick up that tab for them, and have the nerve to whine about it.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Dylan: You have defined perfectly why digital subscriptions will probably never be more than a niche source of revenue. We the customers now pay for printing and distribution, costs we didn’t have to pick up when we were “paying” for the news.

      • There are certain things for which readers will pay – and membership is an important component of broadening revenues, particularly for nonprofit sites – but paywalls for general news are a fool’s errand.

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