What Price is Right for Access to Your Site?

Charging for Access More Than Open/Shut Case

The SIPA online marketing forum recently brought up the issue of newspapers charging for access to their websites. This came in response to the Boston Globe’s announcement a couple weeks ago that it will split its digital news brands into two distinct websites, keeping Boston.com free while establishing a subscription-only pay site, BostonGlobe.com, which will feature all the content produced by the newspaper’s journalists.

Last year, paidContent’s Joseph Tartakoff wrote about some daily newspapers that charge for access to their websites, drawing many interesting comments. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette offers online-only subscriptions, which include access to an electronic edition. Print subscribers get online access for free. This has been a huge success story; print circulation has hardly dropped since the pay wall went into effect in 2002.

In an interview with The Observer (part of The Guardian family in the United Kingdom), Democrat-Gazette Publisher Walter Hussman said, “People in any industry, including the newspaper industry, are always going to be guided by conventional wisdom. Sometimes conventional wisdom is spot-on; it’s what you ought to be doing. But sometimes it’s wrong.”

According to the story, Hussman has gone against the grain in another way: classified ads in the paper are free–as long as they come from individuals and not companies. The result is tangible; Craigslist has a lower penetration in Little Rock than in comparable U.S. cities. Losing classifieds to online has been one of the biggest thorns in newspapers’ lagging sides.

Also of interest to specialized publishers was a quote from Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism: “Charging is much easier for a local or a specialist newspaper where they may be the only source. The key is going to be whether the industry moves in this direction en masse. As long as there are some for free, it’s going to be very difficult for one to go behind a pay wall.”

The Boston Globe article announcing the pay website indicated that the paper is also developing a range of Globe-branded digital products for smartphones, tablets and other devices.

“We want to deliver our content when people want it, where people want it and how people want it,” publisher Christopher M. Mayer said. “Two brands create exciting opportunities for us.”

Although the Globe is not breaking totally new ground here, its “two brands” model does seem to be a pretty new concept. While everyone waits to see how Globe parent New York Times Company structures their pay wall next year, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, also owned by the Times Co., recently introduced a metered model. Print subscribers get free, unlimited access to the website, but non-subscribers get only 10 staff-produced articles a month. After that, they pay a fee of $1 for a day’s access or $14.95 a month. (It makes sense to believe the Times will use a similar approach. Did anyone say “pay-per-drink”?)

The Globe’s two sites mean that their advertisers can target different audiences. “If you want to expand market share, you expand the product base,” Mayer said.

Obviously, all of these pay sites are still works in progress, and the jury remains very far out on their viability. A comment from the paidContent article from last year talked about the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette starting a pay wall for its “PG+” section. But a quick look at the site now shows an exciting and visually appealing homepage with no apparent walls up.

On the positive side, Jay Stone, online production manager for Education Week, wrote a comment that their pay wall has been up since 2005 and that a large portion of their revenue comes from non-print publications. You can read a couple paragraphs of their stories, but then you’re asked to register or subscribe to continue. “Free” gives you limited access, $9.95 allows you to go month to month, and $6.25 a month for a year gives you online access plus print. Interestingly, it costs only 40 cents a month more to get the print product added to online access.

Any more successful models? Let us know.

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Want to hear more about what others in the industry are doing?
SIPA has two networking events coming up in the next week
that you should definitely attend if you are in the area:

Thursday, October 14th, 6:30 p.m.
A Networking Dinner With SIPA President Guy Cecala
Presented by the SIPA Northern California Chapter

An informal forum where you can share, learn and meet with fellow publishers,
and Guy Cecala, CEO of Inside Mortgage Finance Publications, Inc.
Il Fornaio, 1265 Battery Street
Levi’s Plaza, San Francisco

Tuesday, October 19, 8-9:30 a.m.
Capital Content Network Breakfast
The Outlook of the Information Industry for 2011

(Join more than 50 of your peers!)
Speaker: Anthea Stratigos, Co-founder, Outsell, Inc.
The Kiplinger Building
1729 H Street, NW, Washington, D.C.

And mark your calendar for Wednesday, Dec. 8 for a
Holiday Networking Reception in Washington, D.C.
more details to follow!

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