Notice anything different about SFGate.com today? Probably not, but the paper of record has moved some random amount of special content behind a for-subscribers-only paywall site at SFChronicle.com. Articles on SFGate.com will still be free and readers will be able to get all 102 photos in the "Celebrities Who Just Rub You The Wrong Way" slideshow, but if you want yet a Chronicle article about the toll booths on the Golden Gate Bridge, it'll cost you.
That cost, if you're wondering, is about $12 per month for online access with the Sunday edition printed on real paper and sent to your home every week to be consumed alongside your morning coffee. As the SFAppeal points out, it costs about $10 to print that Sunday edition, so it is unclear how that works out as a win for the paper except that they'll be able to tell advertisers that circulation went up on the Sunday edition. If you're among the paperless technocrats who already subscribe to SFGate.com via Kindle or other Chronicle digital subscription, you'll still need to add on the $12 bucks a month for "Ultimate Access" to SFChronicle.com.
Exactly which content has been moved to the Chronicle's new "premium" site is a little baffling as well. All those slideshows and traffic reports and will stay on SFGate for free, but the paper's columnists — which even the paper admits are one of the only reasons for its continued existence — are getting moved over to the new site.
As one Chronicle employee in the advertising department explained it to a disillusioned reader on Reddit:
"Some of our columnists will move to a blog and column system where their column, as it appeared in the morning's paper, will be available on SFChronicle.com while their blog, which will not be entirely the same content, will remain on SFGate.com but will feature a link to their column as well. They are two different media (blog and column) and should be treated separately."
In the case of yacht rock fan and Sixth Street watchdog C.W. Nevius, for example, that means readers get confessional livejournal entries like this post about receiving death threats from bike activists and pit bull owners, or this missive about [sic] "On line dating," texting and kids these days, that won't be found anywhere in the paper.
The rest of Nevblog, as we'll be calling it now, is made up of short synopses that end with a note asking readers to "click here" to read the rest. This week's Saturday column got a lead-in that sums up his stance on Mark Leno's (brilliant) proposal to allow California cities to move last call to 4 a.m.: "Wow, does that sound like a bad idea." The real column, which no one feels like reading now because Chuck (or his copyeditor) packaged it so neatly, is behind the fence at SFChronicle.com. (Which: Hey! That's our job.) Or you could still read it here on SFGate for free. Like we said: baffling.
As one SFGate.com's always charming commenters wrote in the blog comments, "I LOVE these new shorter articles! They're so quick and easy to read!" As if the Chron's effort to herd readers to the subscription site is actually driving them away. Likewise, Michael Bauer's restaurant reviews are now behind the paywall, giving local food bloggers the chance to nab some pageviews their own truncated versions.
Meanwhile, back over at the SFAppeal, former SFist editor Rita Hao has sprung for a subscription and will be spending the week blogging her observations. Today she's already discovered the clean design of the new site just looks like "someone took all the turquoise off SFGate.com" and the content itself is a disappointing mix of AP stories with little to no original content. "I'd be willing to pay $12/month for good an interesting journalism — on anything!" She writes. But "$12 for reformatted AP articles and Matier and Ross? I don’t know, guys."