NEWSPAPER WEB SITES: ‘SHOW ME THE MONEY’

By: Wayne Robins

Readers Are Being Asked To Pay For Online Content


Charging for online content is an idea whose time has come,
again. Frustrated by a business model that demanded no deposits
and provided no returns, newspapers all over the country have
begun to charge or are considering charging for access to the
news and information they place online.

Starting today, surfers landing at the Web site of the Rochester,
Minn., Post-Bulletin (http://www .postbulletin.com), will find the
beach closed unless they either subscribe to the print newspaper
or pay $60 annually for an online subscription.

“Recent layoffs at NBCi, along with almost all of the major
newspaper companies, prove that the current [free] model can’t
survive,” contended Jon Losness, general manager and editor of
the Post-Bulletin, which is owned by Kanakee, Ill.-based
Small Newspaper Group Inc. “We hope associating a price for our
content is the future model.”

Recently, Media General Inc., whose 25 dailies include its
hometown Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch and The
Tampa (Fla.) Tribune, said that some of its Web sites
would be charging for content by the end of the year.

The issue is on the table almost everywhere. “Paid content is
something we spend a lot of time talking about these days,” said
Mike Coleman, audience manager for azcentral.com (http://azcentral.com),
the Web site of The Arizona Republic in Phoenix. “We talk about
how we’re looking for true niche value, that ‘pocket of
passion.”’

The New York Times has found one such pocket of passion:
crossword puzzles. The New York Times on the Web (http://www.nytimes.com) has
been charging $9.95 a year for its premium crosswords package.
Tomorrow, it’s raising the price to $19.95, which will include
daily puzzles, Sunday puzzles, Web-only puzzles, and puzzle
archives back to 1996 – along with Across Lite, a browser
plug-in that enables users to do crosswords on their computers.

“Over the next months, we’ll be experimenting, determining what
other types of content we want to offer on a paid model,” said
Christine Mohan, a spokeswoman for New York Times Digital. Now,
the Times’ site is free, but registration is required.

Ottaway Newspapers Inc., a subsidiary of New York-based Dow Jones
& Co. Inc., has been experimenting with various pay formats at
its Massachusetts papers, and next month it will convene an
Internet advisory group to discuss Web subscription strategy.
“There will be a cross section of publishers, editors,
Webmasters, and ad sales people,” said George M. Dratelis,
Ottaway’s corporate Internet marketing director in Hyannis, Mass.

Three Ottaway dailies in Massachusetts – the Gloucester
Daily Times, The Daily News of Newburyport, and The Salem
Evening News – share a Web portal, NorthShoreOnline (http://www.northshoreonlin
e.com). “We’ve been asked to take a hard look at what we can
do to create an online membership, and give [subscribers]
something more than if they just surfed in. How it’s going to
play out is in flux,” Dratelis said.

Another Ottaway paper, The Standard-Times in New Bedford,
Mass., has charged a subscription fee for the full paper site
(http://www.s-t.com) since November.
“We did a study that identified 3,000 former subscribers who were
reading the paper online every day,” said Mike Conery, online
services manager of the S-T. “That backed up the anecdotal
evidence that people were drifting away from print subscriptions
because it was so easy to read it all online.”

For $19.95 annually, online subscribers can get access to
archives, crossword puzzles, court listings, death notices and
obituaries, and wedding and engagement announcements: the core
attractions of a community newspaper. “We charge for the stuff
people can’t get anywhere else,” Conery said.

Reader, or user reaction, has not been good. Jon Losness notified
Post-Bulletin readers April 3 that the free ride on the
site would end in 27 days. Losness got more than 200 e-mail
messages, almost all negative.

And in New Bedford? “The reaction from our audience was
incredibly negative,” Conery said. “Mean, vile responses, saying,
‘How dare you charge for online content! You have no right!'”
Conery saw the bright side of this reaction. “It proved our
editorial product had value, because if it didn’t have value,
they wouldn’t be so upset at having to pay for it.”



Wayne Robins (wrobins@editorandpublisher.com) is an associate editor covering new media for
E&P.



Related story:
MOST PAPERS CHARGE FOR SOME CONTENT (04/26/01)



Copyright 2001, Editor & Publisher.

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