The resolve to charge for most interactive content is dissolving at some newspapers, potentially thwarting the plans of other publishers who still hope to erect pay walls on their sites.
Despite determined statements by several publishers earlier this year that they intended to make consumers pay for the valuable content newspapers have given away for more than a decade, the managers of some newspapers have come to realise that they can’t afford to lose the traffic that pay walls almost certainly would turn away.
So, the executives are scrapping plans to charge for most, if any, of their content. The latest thinking – which, of course, is far from unanimous across the industry – is illustrated in two fresh data points:
- Goli Sheikholeslami, the general manager of WashingtonPost.Com, told a conference at the Shorenstein centre at Harvard last week that “not enough people are willing to pay” to make the sale of online content a viable business. “If could get 5 million people to pay me to visit my site each month, I would be done,” she said. But Sheikholeslami said she has no hope of doing so.
- Although Hearst Corp. attracted headlines in February when its top newspaper executive said he aimed to start charging for content, Mark Adkins, the president of the San Francisco Chronicle, told me last week that “we believe in being a free website” but plan to develop supplementary “premium content we will charge for.”
The Chronicle plan sounds a lot like the decision of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune to continue to run a free site while charging $12.95 a year for access to premium coverage of the Minnesota Vikings. The Viking package emulates the long-running Packer Insider at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which grosses more than $1 million a year.
The hybrid free-plus-premium approach, which seems to be where the industry is heading in several large markets, may be one of the reasons the Gannett Co. recently urged its editors to get their “swagger back” by stepping up the production of unique and differentiated content.
Not all publishers are backing off pay walls.
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