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Originally published Saturday, February 23, 2013 at 8:42 PM

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Digital subscriptions needed to support quality journalism

In mid-March, The Seattle Times will launch a new digital-subscription plan for users of Seattletimes.com. Print subscribers will continue to have unrestricted access.

Seattle Times executive editor

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It is a truism of American life that you get what you pay for. The notion is that quality is usually commensurate with cost. Even China, not a traditional bastion of capitalism, has its own version: “Yi fen qian, yi fen huo,” meaning, “One cent gives you one cent’s worth.”

These days, that foundation of our economic system is making its way into the world of news. Since The New York Times began charging for full access to its website two years ago, more than 400 daily newspapers across the country — including most in this state — now have digital subscriptions. Full, unrestricted access to their websites is no longer free.

Next month, The Seattle Times will join them. In mid-March, we will launch a new digital-subscription plan for users of Seattletimes.com, the region’s largest, best and most popular news website.

For those of you who subscribe to the printed Seattle Times, here’s some good news: Your digital subscription will be included in your home-delivery package, and you’ll have full access to Times content on all digital platforms, including our new applications for smartphones and tablets, as well as our digital replica of the printed paper.

For those of you who don’t subscribe to the printed paper but who value the depth and breadth of content supplied by the Northwest’s largest news team, here’s some good news for you also: You now will have the chance to directly help support quality journalism in our region.

The reasons for this development are simple: The economics of the news business, and of the newspaper industry in particular, have changed dramatically over the past decade. More people than ever are reading our content in print and digital formats, but our primary source of revenue — advertising — is declining locally and nationally and no longer supports our costs to the degree it once did.

Since its launch in 1996, access to Seattletimes.com has been free. We have charged our readers only for distribution of the printed newspaper, and at a price that only partially covered the costs of the ink, paper, trucks and carriers.

The expenses of the newsroom — reporters, editors, photographers, columnists, graphic artists, page designers, researchers, bloggers, digital producers — and of all of the supporting departments necessary to operate this place (Finance, Human Resources, Information Technology, etc.), were covered by advertising revenue.

The math no longer adds up. We need to evolve in the way we do business, just as we have in the way we deliver our content to you.

While our resources have contracted, our commitment to serving you and our community has not. We’re keenly proud of the journalism we provide, delivered when, where and how you want it — whether that’s a newspaper spread out on your kitchen table in the morning, on the screen of your desktop computer when you get to work, on your smartphone as you’re walking (not driving!) to lunch, on your tablet as you stretch out on the couch in front of the TV at night.

In fact, our market research tells us that many of you are using us in multiple formats through the day, which is why we're making full digital access free for those of you already paying us for a print subscription.

For those who don’t subscribe and who still want full access to our digital content, you’ll have the choice to either start a print subscription and receive full digital access (even a Sunday-only subscription will work) or to sign up for a new digital subscription. Both options will offer full access both to the website and to all Times digital offerings.

Those without a print or digital subscription will still be able to access Seattletimes.com on a limited basis. But if you visit the site repeatedly, you will ultimately encounter a barrier requiring enrollment.

Of course, we realize that nobody likes having to pay for something they’ve been receiving for free. But we believe that if you stop for just a moment to contemplate how important The Times is to the vitality and civility of the Puget Sound region, you might even feel good about your contribution to sustaining the content you value.

Every day, we give you news you can’t get anywhere else: watchdog stories on local government, such as the recent revelations about Port of Seattle Commissioner Rob Holland’s ethical missteps, reporting that led Holland to resign. Major investigative projects, such as the Pulitzer Prize-winning series revealing that state policies on methadone had led to more than 2,000 unnecessary deaths. Engaging profiles of people behind the headlines, such as last Sunday’s story on the Seattle University law student whose father was a human trafficker. Fascinating features on travel, entertainment and the arts. Expert analysis from our sports staff, the largest and most experienced in the Northwest. The best reporting in the region on business, the environment, health care, education, the justice system. Trustworthy reviews of restaurants, films, books, plays, music and even happy hours. Riveting photography. Provocative commentary.

On Seattletimes.com, you’ll find all of that plus the latest breaking news, weather and traffic, live chats and community forums, videos and interactive graphics, and links to our extensive network of neighborhood and specialty blogs. The Online News Association recently cited ours as one of the four best large news websites in North America.

As we ask you to support quality journalism in the Northwest, we promise to be more focused than ever on serving you. If you have suggestions in that regard, please send them along to me at the email address at the bottom of this column.

Current print subscribers will soon receive details about activating their digital accounts. New subscribers may call 206-464-2121, or go to http://seattletimes.com/subscribe.

Thanks for reading us, in whatever format works best for you. And thanks for continuing to support the journalism that helps make this community the unique and vibrant place it is.

Reach Executive Editor David Boardman at 206-464-2205 or editor@seattletimes.com

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