In the face of declining physical newspaper sales and print advertising revenue, The Straits Times introduced the concept of “Premium” articles in February 2018. Under this new system, articles with the Premium tag can only be accessed by paying subscribers.
Before Premium, anyone could access any article for free, subject to a cap of 15 articles each month. Readers who tried to read more articles beyond the limit would bump into a paywall and be directed to sign up for a Straits Times digital subscription. As citizens of a Smart Nation, Singaporeans easily subverted this cap by using multiple web browsers or using their browser’s Incognito mode to increase the number of articles they could view.
The Premium system eliminated this loophole for good.
Given the widespread availability of free news from other sites like Channel NewsAsia and TODAYOnline, is the value proposition of reading the “best and most exclusive work by the ST newsroom” strong enough to make Singaporeans pay? Let’s take a look.
What You Get With Premium
According to the Straits Times, Premium articles include exclusive stories, interviews, visuals, videos and opinion pieces. All other articles, including breaking news stories on developments in Singapore and the world remain free to access.
Since February, all articles published by senior editors including Han Fook Kwang, Chua Mui Hoong and Sumiko Tan have been classified as Premium articles. Most other Straits Times journalists seem to write a mix of both Premium and free stories.
Subscription Plans Available
There are three Straits Times Premium subscription plans available:
Basic Digital: $14.90/month
All-Digital + Print: $29.90/month + delivery charge of between $3 to $5
Both plans allow unlimited access to ST Premium articles and provide giveaways and exclusive invites through the ST Plus rewards programme. The additional benefits from going All-Digital versus sticking to Basic Digital include concurrent access on two more devices, access to the e-paper and seven-day archived editions.
The best way to getting your money’s worth is likely through actively participating in the ST Plus rewards programme, which previously handed out free movie tickets and cooking classes on a first-come-first-serve basis. This month, there are Father’s Day cookies for lucky SPH subscribers.
Additionally, there are attractive sign up gifts available for those willing to do long-term subscriptions. In April, the Straits Times announced that new subscribers to its All-Digital and All-Digital + Print Packages would receive the Google Home Mini (worth $79).
If you are not sure you want to commit, there is also an introductory offer of $0.99/month for the first three months for all digital family access to the Straits Times.
Multiple Ways To Evaluate ST Premium
Beyond just the subscription fee, you need to invest your time to catch up with Premium news articles. Like many people who underutilise their gym memberships, you need to consider if you have the time to read ST Premium articles regularly.
Before committing to a subscription, you can take full advantage of the free or discounted trials before committing to a long-term subscription. This way, you can find out how often you actually read the articles, and how much these articles add value to you. This will help you decide if the ST Premium subscription plan is worth paying for.
Comparison with Other International News Sites
Despite the perks mentioned, ST Premium might face an uphill task in getting more subscribers because it charges more compared to other internationally-renowned newspapers for digital access.
The venerable New York Times (NYT) has won 125 Pulitzer Prizes and has a global network of journalists and photographers. It charges US$2 (S$2.67) per week of basic digital access (50% less for the first month). This gives you unlimited access to all New York Times articles online, including digital replicas of every issue dating back to 1851.
Given the average month is around 4.5 weeks, a month of online subscription to the NYT costs $2.67 x 4.5 = $12.02, which is cheaper than the Straits Times.
The Washington Post charges US$6 ($8.01) for every four weeks for its basic digital package (US$1 for the first month), and offers unlimited access to Washington Post articles and applications.
Over in the United Kingdom, The Times is one of the most authoritative British newspapers with 233 years of history. They charge £5 ($8.96) per month for a digital subscription to its international edition (£1 per month for first three months).
It should be noted that these international publications cover world news, while The Straits Times offers local stories and perspectives. It is up to you to decide if you’re better served with a (cheaper) subscription to one of the international publications plus free-to-view websites like Channel NewsAsia and TODAYOnline, or a ST Premium subscription.
Comparison with Other Online Services:
Another way of measuring value is to compare what you’ll get with ST Premium versus other types of online content like Spotify and Netflix.
A Spotify Premium costs $9.90/month for unlimited music streaming without ads. The Standard Netflix Plan, which allows unlimited high definition streaming on two devices concurrently, costs $13.98/month. At $14.90/month or more, does your ST Premium subscription get used as much as your a Netflix or Spotify plan?
Perhaps the calculation for ST Premium would be very different if you’re a student, where you can see it as a source of information and insights that would be a good complement to your educational materials. Students can use it to deepen their knowledge of current affairs and help them in English and General Paper examinations.
Depending on who you are, and how much you value the unique content provided by ST Premium, your answer to whether the subscription is worth the money will be different.
As The Straits Times continues to try and attract more subscribers, we can expect that they will work harder to offer compelling content that Singaporeans cannot do without.
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