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Monday, July 27, 2020

Cleveland.com Erects Paywall, "Exclusive" Content Now Requires Paid Subscription to Access

Posted By on Mon, Jul 27, 2020 at 11:32 AM

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In a letter Saturday, Plain Dealer / cleveland.com editor Chris Quinn said that the 10-12 daily stories which have been tagged "Exclusive" for the last month or so will now be available only to digital and print subscribers. Despite Quinn's previous insistence to the contrary, a paywall is now in effect.

Cleveland.com held out its hat for "voluntary subscriptions" earlier in the pandemic, and at the time, Quinn went to great lengths to assure everybody that this was not a paywall.



"This is not a paywall," he wrote. "Our coronavirus news and all of our other stories remain free. We are not cutting anyone off from the vital information needed to get through this ordeal. Your subscribing is simply an act of support for our work."

That has now changed, at least for the content most readers value. "Exclusive" was a confusing label, especially because identical news reports, or similar coverage, regularly appeared in other local outlets. The dozen-plus stories each day, which may gradually increase to encompass more of the site's original reporting and commentary, can be more accurately thought of as the site's "premium" content. Quinn referenced both the recent reporting on the statehouse HB6 scandal and the output of veteran sports columnists in describing it. He said there would be no set formula for the designation of subscriber-exclusive content.

(Let the record be clear: cleveland.com reporters have been doing tremendous, critically important work in recent months and are worthy of supporting via subscription.) 

Advance Publications' corporate position was always against paywalls. Its "digital-first" strategy, enacted at publications nationwide, entailed generating loads of free content to jack up clicks in an effort to increase advertising revenue. The residue of that opposition means that "paywall" is still a dirty word and concept at cleveland.com. Quinn can't bring himself to use it, though that's exactly what he's describing. 

"You’ll get to read one 'subscriber Exclusive' story every 30 days without being signed in, but after that first one, you’ll have to be a paying subscriber signed into the site," Quinn wrote Monday.

As with other businesses, including Scene, the coronavirus has been rough on cleveland.com's finances. It's perfectly natural that the site should erect a paywall to make money off its resource-intensive work. But unmentioned in all of Quinn's columns is the degree to which The Plain Dealer long subsidized the work of cleveland.com, and the exodus of print subscribers after Advance fulfilled its union-busting scheme and killed the PD News Guild once and for all this spring.

For those who've kept their print subscriptions, full digital access will be granted. Digital subscriptions, just like the voluntary subscriptions, will cost $10/month, or $100 billed annually.

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