We’re good enough with snark to know what’s coming.
“Free Times isn’t free anymore!?!”
Yes, starting Oct. 9, unlimited access to Free Times’ online content will require a subscription. But before you fire off your tweet, please allow me to explain.
First, let me assure you that the printed Free Times, full of stories about local and state politics, food and drink, arts and entertainment, will remain free, dropped at more than 600 boxes and restaurants and other businesses around the Midlands as your weekly guide to what’s going on where you live.
Second, if you choose to subscribe, you’ll get a lot for a little. For as little as $3 a week, you’ll get access to all of Free Times’ expanded online coverage and all of the stories published by our Pulitzer Prize-winning sister paper, The Post and Courier, a bounty of additional local and state-focused news stories, Gamecocks and Tigers sports content, and a whole lot more.
That’s barely more — or maybe a little less — than we pay for a cup of coffee at Drip or Indah or any of our other beloved local coffee shops. It’s no more than you’d pay — even at happy hour or on pint night — for a beer at any of our great local breweries.
For $3 a week, you’ll be able to read about all the coffee and beer and food and music and arts and news that makes our weird little corner of the world what it is. We think that’s a pretty good deal.
But why are we erecting this paywall?
Because while Free Times has managed to remain free for more than 30 years, good journalism costs money to produce. Print-based advertising, long our principal source of revenue, isn’t enough to pay for it anymore. And while we will continue to combat this issue by diversifying our revenue streams — bolstering digital advertising efforts, releasing special sections, hosting more events — we need more to bridge the gap.
Across our industry, publications struggle to subsist on a pool of advertising dollars that’s increasingly siphoned off by search engines, social media and all manner of digital and online entities that didn’t exist when we set up shop as Columbia’s alternative weekly back in 1987.
In December, The Atlantic ran an article taking stock of the “The Post-Advertising Future of the Media,” noting that major outlets from The New York Times to Vice and BuzzFeed have been hurt by declining advertising revenue, and that smaller, local publications are also feeling the strain.
It’s a trend to which Free Times is by no means immune.
“The disease seems widespread,” The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson observed, “affecting venture-capital darlings and legacy brands, flattening local news while punishing international wires. Almost no one is safe, and almost everyone is for sale.”
Free Times refuses to be flattened. We remain dedicated to providing you, our more than 100,000 weekly print and online readers, with an alternative news publication that’s filled not with sponsored content and re-printed press releases, but with honest, critically minded stories about what’s going on in the Midlands.
That’s what you’re paying for if you choose to subscribe. But even if you don’t, we hope you continue to pick up a paper each week.
We’re here for you, no matter how much you choose to pay. And we’re not going anywhere.
Let us know what you think: Email firstname.lastname@example.org.