Newspapers, historically, have not said that enough to their customers. Frankly, it's because we haven't had to. We cranked out The Forum every day for more than a century and you bought them. Or you didn't. Whatever. We just kept churning out what we call "the daily miracle" because you kept buying them.
That changed a couple of decades ago when the internet became widely popular. We kept producing printed newspapers every day, and kept selling a lot of them, but also put most of our product on our InForum website where the public could read our journalism for free. Soon enough, predictably, our print circulation began to decline.
With our product free on the internet, along with thousands of other sites offering free news, printed newspapers began to suffer. Combine that with declining advertising revenue, thanks mostly to gigantic ad vehicles Facebook and Google, most newspapers are hurting. Some have gone out of business, including some in our region. Almost all have reduced newsroom staffs, including those in the Forum Communications Co. family.
Some newspapers began charging for their online content, putting up paywalls that often allow readers a handful of articles for free before blocking access until they pay a subscription fee. It's been met with varied success, but mostly it's been a struggle to spur readers to pay for online content.
The Forum resisted a paywall until we began instituting one in stages last summer. Despite erosion in the industry, we remain in a strong financial position for a newspaper in 2019. But the future, one that is mostly digital, is clear. The daily journalism you read is headed toward a world in which it is accessed mostly on computers, tablets and phones.
Journalism costs money. Even the online version. Reporter, photographer and editor salaries. Hardware. Software. Travel. Newsroom infrastructure. And with a newsroom vastly larger than those of The Forum's competition in this market, we needed to begin to set the table for a digital future. So we asked our readers to pay $9.99 a month for online access to InForum. Those who already had a print subscription had their monthly bills bumped up several dollars and were given full access to our online products.
We heard the complaints. After giving away our product online for so long, we expected it. Change is hard anyway, and asking readers to pay for something they'd received free for two decades was going to cause a reaction. Many of us in The Forum's newsroom were nervous about the paywall. Would people be willing to pay for our journalism? Some surely would, but how many? Is our work good enough that people see monetary value in it? What if the number of online subscribers is paltry? What then?
The Forum's online content went fully behind a paywall in early September. Most of Forum Communications Co.'s newspaper properties in other markets followed. We waited and wondered how the public would react.
Which is why I began this column the way I did.
Thousands of you have purchased online memberships to The Forum. Thousands more have purchased online memberships through our other properties (a subscription to one gives you access to all). Thousands of print subscribers have activated their digital accounts (and if you haven't, what are you waiting for?). And tens of thousands of you have registered with The Forum or another Forum Communications Co. website, allowing free articles until you hit the paywall.
We are two months in to asking you to pay for our online journalism, and we are about halfway to reaching our first-year membership goal. We believe we'll easily reach it.
Oh, and there's this nugget: Print subscriptions to The Forum have increased, too.
It is early, and the number of memberships are nowhere near where they need to be long-term, but we are humbled and heartened. Thousands in this community and others view local journalism as something they are willing to pay for online. We believe we provide the best, broadest and most in-depth local news. InForum's stories go beyond three-paragraph broadcast scripts. We're thrilled you see value in our work.
There are detractors who claim "nobody reads newspapers anymore." That has never been true and, given online access to daily newspaper content, is even less so today. In the 12-month period from July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019, InForum had 4.6 million unique users who viewed nearly 125 million pages on our web site. Forum Communications Co.'s network of websites had more than 430 million pageviews in that time frame.
People are reading newspapers, just in a different way than they did historically. Thank you for reading. And thank you, again, to those who've purchased online memberships. The task is not nearly finished, but we're off to a solid start.