In 2011, Oklahoma State University’s Daily O’Collegian became the first university publication to begin charging for its content, instituting a metered paywall for readers who were not university students or employees. For $10, readers outside these categories could access unlimited content on the paper’s website.
At the time, newspaper general manager Ray Catalino said that the value of the content produced by the student journalists extended beyond the paper’s free distribution.
While a revolutionary move in the college media industry, critics were not optimistic about the paper’s approach.
According to Dan Reimold, Assistant Professor of Journalism at Saint Joseph’s University (Philadelphia, United States), campus newspapers have the advantage of low staffing costs combined with the lack of expectations to generate profits.
“Along with potentially turning away readers without generating much revenue, paywalls at heart also go against the purpose of the student press. For the moment, campus media are still learning vehicles more than moneymaking ventures,” Reimold wrote on his blog College Media Matters. “In that spirit, students must be able to share, share, share their work with others, without restriction, enabling them to join a larger conversation and learn firsthand about reporting and interacting with the public beyond the classroom or campus.”
The goal for the first year was a paid subscription base of 100. The newspaper exceeded expectations, picking up 173 paying readers.
However, three years later, the newspaper’s landmark strategy is continuing to pay dividends. In an interview with WAN-IFRA, Catalino said that there are now approximately 500 paying customers.
The price of the subscription has also increased.
“We have raised new subscribers' fee from $10 the first year, $15 the second, and now $20 for the year,” Catalino said. “Subscriptions are automatically renewed each year, unless cancelled by the customer. Renewal costs remain the same as the initial year the customer signed up.”
The draw for readers is that campus newspapers cover their universities far better than other publications.
“Campus newspaper like ours cover the campus better than commercial newspapers in almost every college market I am familiar with. We do not use any wire service, so we generate all content ourselves,” Catalino continued.
Catalino said that there are no plans to charge students.
Thus far, the three year experiment has proved to be a success, but as WAN-IFRA detailed in December 2013, The Daily O’Collegian isn’t the only student newspaper finding innovative solutions to the challenges facing all print media.
George Washington University’s The Hatchet began offering sponsorship opportunities in its facilities, while the University of Oregon Daily Emerald rebranded itself as the Emerald Media Group, updating its student media offerings.
As these publications have proven, some forms of student media are thriving in the changing digital environment.
Correction: This post has been updated to correct that The Daily O'Collegian is the newspaper at Oklahoma State University, not the University of Oklahoma