SF Chronicle said to demolish paywall after four months

The newspaper introduced a new subscription-only Web site in March that charged for access to "premium" stories and columns. But its content is reportedly free now.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
Expertise I have more than 30 years' experience in journalism in the heart of the Silicon Valley.
Steven Musil
2 min read
The San Francisco Chronicle. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A little more than four months after the San Francisco Chronicle began charging online readers for some content, the newspaper's paywall experiment has reportedly come to an end.

The newspaper announced in March that it would place certain "premium" stories and columns behind a paywall, charging readers a $12 monthly subscription fee for access to all the digital content on SFChronicle.com, which is separate from the newspaper's free SFGate.com. News of the paywall's impending collapse was broken Tuesday morning on Twitter by The Verge's Casey Newton, a former reporter at CNET and the Chronicle:

Staffers were informed of the move during a meeting Monday afternoon at the newspaper's downtown San Francisco office, according to the SFWeekly. Oddly, SFChronicle.com subscribers will still have the option of paying for access to the premium-content Web site even though it will all now be freely available at SFGate.com, the free weekly alternative newspaper reported.

Chronicle representatives declined to comment on whether it had dismantled the paywall, saying that it was now publishing San Francisco Chronicle content to both Web sites.

"Our goal is to offer readers as many choices as possible to access our content when and how they want it," the newspaper said in a statement. "SFGate will continue to provide readers with a broad spectrum of content as well as all Chronicle reports and columns. The SFChronicle.com site will continue to provide readers with an online version that replicates a newspaper experience and reflects the changes in the news throughout the day."

Charging readers for access to online content is a growing trend in the newspaper business, which for the past decade has been scrambling for profits amid sagging print advertising revenue and declining circulations. In June, The Washington Post erected a paywall, joining other national newspapers in charging for online news access.

Though unusual, the demolition of a newspaper paywall isn't unheard of. In 2007, The New York Times dismantled its TimesSelect Web service after two years, eventually replacing it with another subscription plan that initially gave readers access to 20 articles a month free of charge before cutting that number to 10 earlier this year. Newspapers are also known to lower paywalls temporarily during times of natural disaster.

Updated 8/14, at 2:20 p.m. PT with Chronicle statement.