Charges For More Content

By: Michael Liedtke, AP Business Writer

(AP) The Associated Press reported erroneously on Oct. 1 that is charging a subscription for virtually all its staff-written articles. The Web site said the charge applies only to political and news coverage written by its staff, and that more than 50% of its content remains free.

Hoping to end its six-year run of losses, began charging Monday for full articles in a move that will transform much of the Web site into a subscription service.

The switch comes six months after San Francisco-based Salon began offering readers a chance to read an advertising-free version of its Web site for $30 annually. The subscription service also offered some columns and other features unavailable in the free version. Now, the site offers a few paragraphs of its staff-written articles for free, but charges for the full stories.

The decision to charge for virtually all its staff-written articles is part of an effort to survive an Internet shakeout that has wiped out hundreds of Web sites in the past year. To stay afloat, the online paper’s parent company, Salon Media Group Inc., has raised $3.25 million from 15 investors.

Through June 30, the company had accumulated losses of $68 million since its inception in 1995. Salon has told investors it hopes to break even within the next two quarters.

Facing pressure to make money, a growing number of Web sites have begun charging for once-free services. For the most part, the new fees are drawing a cool reception from Web surfers accustomed to getting most online content for free.

Salon acknowledged that its expanded fees risk alienating the millions of readers who visit its site each month to read its frequently sassy news and political coverage.

“Some readers have implored Salon to reconsider this decision, pointing to the urgency of the times … but this is precisely why we need our readers’ support right now,” wrote Salon Editor David Talbot in a letter posted on the Web site Monday.

Talbot said the subscriptions will help Salon pay for “substantial resources” committed to covering the United States’ war on terrorism. Salon already has sent one correspondent to the Middle East to cover the conflict.

Even after lowering its expenses through pay cuts and layoffs earlier this year, Salon is still having trouble paying its bills. In his note Monday, Talbot said advertising revenue is covering less than half of Salon’s expenses.

Since introducing its premium service in April, Salon has signed up 20,000 subscribers. About 11,000 of those subscribers signed up in the last three months. The subscribers represent only a small fraction of Salon’s total traffic, which totals about 3.8 million unique visitors per month, according to the company.

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