By Dan Kennedy
Now, here’s an interesting idea. The Batavian, a for-profit digital news outlet located in Genesee County, in western New York, has begun charging readers who want to see stories as soon as they’re posted. Others have to wait four hours.
In a press release posted by the trade publication Editor & Publisher, Howard Owens, who has led The Batavian since its founding nearly 15 years ago, explained that the website has begun charging $8 a month, or $80 a year, for subscribers who don’t want to put up with the four-hour delay. He calls it an “Early Access Pass,” and he writes:
I’m not aware of any other news publication using a similar reader-revenue model. For 15 years, our news site has been supported by more than 150 locally owned businesses, and we had an obligation to our fellow small business owners to ensure The Batavian remains the first stop in our community for local news. A paywall like many newspaper sites erect would kill site traffic, but with this model, we anticipate our program will keep our market-dominating traffic numbers high.
In a post at The Batavian, Owens says that the Early Access Pass is off to a fast start. He quotes one couple who told him: “We believe that being connected to local news is important for a healthy community. Knowing what’s happening in our own backyards helps raise awareness of events that we can have an effect on. We appreciate having an unbiased news source, and that is still free for our neighbors who may frequently face difficult financial choices.”
The Batavian has been an innovative project since its founding, and I reported on it for my 2013 book “The Wired City.” Owens launched the site as a pilot project for GateHouse Media in 2008, when he was the chain’s head of digital publishing. After GateHouse eliminated his position the following year, he took The Batavian with him and has been at it ever since. (GateHouse, as you know, merged with Gannett in 2019 and took its name.)
You’ll be able to hear Owens talk about The Batavian on an upcoming episode of the “What Works” podcast.