For more than a decade, the Santa Maria Times has been working hard to keep pace with the evolution of the Internet and digital journalism, and this week we’re taking another important step.

When we launched our first website in 2001, we were pretty proud of the achievement. Now, though, we realize it looked and performed like a junior high newsletter compared to today’s modern, interactive site.

The pace of technological change in just 11 short years has been dizzying, but it’s also been a race to update our business practices so they make sense in the online world.

On Wednesday, following the lead of many of the nation’s other newspapers, we will launch an online subscription plan that won’t affect many of our readers but will be an important change for others.

In short, access to the large majority of our website will remain free, but frequent readers will need to subscribe if they want to read more than 10 of our locally written staff articles in a 30-day period. They’ll get guidance right on the website as they approach their 10-article limit so they can decide whether they’re ready to subscribe.

No one will have to pay to see some of our most popular features, such as the site’s home page, obituaries, staff photos or community calendar. You can search for website content and view all the national and world news, special sections and advertising as often as you want. None of that will count against the 10-story limit each month.

However, each reading of one of our locally written staff articles — including news, sports, lifestyles and opinion, and the comments that online readers post in response to those articles — as well as our archived stories, will be included in the 10 views. To read more than 10 entries of that premium content in 30 days, a reader will need to register on the site and subscribe.

People who already subscribe to the printed newspaper will get a significant discount in the price of an online subscription. For example, they will pay just $1.95 per month compared with $6.95 per month for online readers who don’t subscribe to the printed newspaper.

Other prices are available for annual subscriptions to the Times website, as are “package prices” for readers who want full access to more than one of the websites of our Lee Central Coast Newspapers, which include the Lompoc Record and Santa Ynez Valley News. All three newspapers are launching the same metered-pay plan this week.

You have free articles remaining.

Become a Member

We don’t expect people to be thrilled if they have to pay for something they’ve been getting for free, but we also believe this new arrangement is reasonable and fair. If we manufactured hammers instead of newspapers, no one would expect to get a free hammer. For generations, we’ve all paid for our newspapers either through an annual subscription or at a news rack. This is really no different.

Yes, there are many free websites in the world and in the area that have a lot of information on them. We believe, however, that none of them can offer the breadth and depth of our local coverage.

In addition, our websites contain many things that you don’t get in our printed papers. For example, we have news and sports staff members who write blogs about local schools and sports. Other online-only features range from additional political, lifestyle and other columnists to state, national and world news, to comic strips and puzzles.

A decade ago, when the Internet really took off, newspaper officials immediately began to debate how to handle online publishing. If we charged even a small fee, would it prevent readers from using the site? On the other hand, if we didn’t charge online readers, could we afford to sustain the significant investment we make in people, equipment and technology so we can publish each day?

Most newspaper owners decided then to offer free access until they could come up with a better method. This week, like many of the nation’s newspapers, we evolve into what we believe is that better method.

We’ve done all we can to make this easy for our readers, and beginning Wednesday, you can follow the directions to subscribe on our website. However, if you have questions or would rather subscribe by telephone, we invite you to call us at 739-2207, or email us at circulation@santamariatimes.com.

We know that our readers and advertisers have been, and continue to be, essential to our success as a newspaper and a local business — and we’re grateful for that support. In the grand scheme of things, we’re a group of rather small local newspapers trying our best to offer the services that a reader could expect from much larger ones. We may hit some bumps in the road as we continue this historic transition of news from the printed page to the digital screen, and we expect you to tell us when we hit one. Then we’ll smooth it out as soon as possible.

Thank you for your continued support.

Subscribe to Daily Headlines

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.