Spain’s ‘El Pais’ To Charge For Web Site

By: Mark Fitzgerald

Saying it wants to impose the traditional newspaper subscription business model on Internet news sites, the Spanish daily El Pais next week will begin charging for access to any part of its Web site, elpais.es.

Some business newspapers, such as The Wall Street Journal, charge for access for large areas of their Web sites and a few European general-interest papers — notably El Mundo in Spain and Le Monde in France — charge for access to some content. However, El Pais is believed to be the first big general-interest paper in Europe to put its entire interactive newspaper behind a paid subscription wall. Based in Madrid and circulating nationally, El Pais is Spain’s largest daily with a circulation of 413,000 daily and 1,000,500 on Sundays, according to the E&P International Year Book.

“With a half-million visitors daily, elpais.es believes the moment has arrived to transfer to the Internet the logic that rules the traditional market of the press: That which has value, costs,” the newspaper said in a posting on its site this week. “Just as a reader of the printed edition considers it right to pay for first-hand information, the demanding Web surfer (el internauta exigente) is beginning to understand that getting everything free on the Web is not exactly synonymous with quality and trustworthiness.”

The subscription-only model will begin during the week of Nov. 18, the newspaper said, but users will be able to sample the site free for a week at a time until Dec. 18. An annual subscription, which at least initially will include a 13th month free, will cost 80 euros, or about $72 U.S. A half-year subscription is 50 euros, or about $45 U.S.

Subscribers become members of what the paper is calling its Club of the Better Informed. In addition to content from the daily paper and its special sections, subscribers will be able to access all electronic archives as well as PDF versions of the newspaper dating back through 1998.

The Web site fully expects to lose 90% of its visitors, said Mario Tasc?n, general director of content for Prisacom S.A., the digital business for Grupo Prisa, the chain that publishes El Pais. Tasc?n made his comments in an interview conducted by V?ctor Manuel Vargas, the Spain correspondent for El Tiempo of Bogota, Colombia. The interview was posted Friday on El Tiempo‘s Web site, http://www.eltiempo.com.

Tasc?n said the drop in readership was “not important, because from now on we’re going to measure our success from the number of people who are willing to pay for our information.” Subscribers will stay for the paper’s extensive news coverage and columnists such as the politically conservative novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, he said.

El Pais does not believe that depending on online advertising is an “efficient model,” Tasc?n added. “Those who’ve tried it haven’t achieved good levels of success.”

Reaction from elpais.es users was, not surprisingly, overwhelmingly negative. “I feel that my favorite paper is defrauding me with this,” wrote someone calling himself “A. Tonito” in a posting Thursday. “First there were the aggressive ads with the stupid pop-ups, and now this. It’s another low of imprudent globalization.”

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