Happy 2017 to one and all. For us at Alaska Dispatch News, this is going to be a year of big change. Of course that means change for all of you, too. And when you think of our larger worlds — our state and its fiscal and economic challenges; a new president; a world of different geopolitical stresses — we know we're in for quite a ride in 2017.
I want to start with the big point: We at Alaska Dispatch News are more committed than ever to publishing news, opinions, voices and community information that make all our lives more informed. In fact, after the turbulent election year just past, we've come to see this mission as more vital than ever.
At the same time, our business is not immune to the pressures on the news industry everywhere. So we have to make some changes that will allow us to keep growing into the future.
The first one you will notice will be our digital membership charges. In 2014, when Alaska Dispatch purchased the Anchorage Daily News, the first thing we changed was to make all our digital content free. We believed then — as I still believe — that publishing the news is a public service, and we wanted our new, broader content to be accessible to all Alaskans and everyone in the world who wanted to know more about this wonderful place.
I still feel that way. Publishing the news is a way of contributing to a "civil society" and I still want our news to be available to anyone who wants to be better informed about Alaska and the issues that affect us. At the same time, Alaska Dispatch News is also a business.
We employ more than 200 Alaskans, and we do business with hundreds of other local companies, contractors and organizations. We don't need to make money, but we have to stay afloat. I've chosen to assume the responsibility to run the company in a way that will let us keep publishing the news year after year.
Our publications, print and digital alike, are supported by the subscribers and advertisers who are our customers. And as customer preferences change along with technology, we have to adapt our business to respond to new needs.
While some of you are reading this in the print newspaper and want to read the news that way every day (we appreciate you and thank you for your continuing support!), there are many more of you reading it on a computer or tablet or (and this is the largest and fastest-growing group of you) your phone. As the way you consume news changes, our organization must change, too.
It's easy to see the costs associated with publishing a print newspaper — paper, ink, printing and delivery. What you might not realize, unless you work behind the scenes, is that a digital publication the size and scale of adn.com costs a great deal to produce, as well. Design and programming, web hosting, content management systems and other tools and services require heavy investment. And of course, the largest cost is the news staff.
When you read a story with an ADN byline, the person responsible for it is a full-time employee of ours. We have more of them — along with editors, photographers and columnists — than many local news organizations in far larger places.
Until now, we chose to stick to the old business model in which advertisers alone shoulder these costs, along with the traditional paper subscribers. But as more and more of our readers move to mobile, it's clear we can't rely on a revenue model that doesn't involve reader support any more than we can deliver our print newspaper for free.
That's why, beginning this month, we will be asking our digital readers to make an investment in quality local news the way our print readers do.
Our new digital memberships will cost $9.99 per month ($99 for 12 months) and include full access to adn.com, plus the print-replica e-Edition (for those of us who still love the feel of paging through a newspaper, even if it's a virtual paper!). You'll find details and other benefits at adn.com/whatsnew. Print subscribers get digital products at no extra charge. Online readers will be able to access a limited number of articles each month without a charge.
Over time, we plan to add more benefits for our members, possibly including event tickets or discounts, more shopping and dining deals, and other perks as a "thank you" for your investment in local news. If you already subscribe to the paper, you'll receive your digital membership at no additional charge.
This brings me to the second point: The next big change this month is that we're remaking our weekend print publications.
No publisher ever wants to cut back the publication schedule, and I've been no exception. The bottom line, though, is that our dedication is to providing you the news, not necessarily in a specific format.
In reviewing circulation and advertising data as well as reader patterns and feedback, we've recognized that Saturday's print newspaper has a lower level of interest than other days of the week, both from subscribers and from advertisers.
By eliminating the Saturday edition and switching to a two-issue Friday-Sunday "weekend," we will realize cost savings that subsidize roughly eight to 10 jobs — journalists we can continue to employ because we have made this change.
I also want to reassure you that the amount of weekend content ADN publishes will not shrink. Starting Friday, Jan. 20, you'll see expanded Friday and Sunday papers that will be redesigned and filled with more news, features and opinions.
We'll also continue to publish live news online at adn.com seven days a week. Rest assured, too, your Saturday comics and crossword puzzles will appear in Sunday's newspaper. Friday's newspaper will be available for purchase at newsstands and boxes through Saturday, and Sunday's paper will continue to be available for sale all week.
No doubt some of you will find these changes inconvenient, and I want you to know we're sympathetic. Change is not easy for any of us.
Like news organizations everywhere, we're searching for the best way to navigate our industry's ever-evolving landscape. We intend to serve Alaskans for generations to come, and we are taking these steps to ensure we will be able to do so.