paidContent - Taking The Plunge: How Newspaper Sites That Charge Are Faring

This story was written by Joseph Tartakoff.
As more newspapers kick around the idea of charging for content, much of the attention has been focused on the pay models employed by the bigger players like the WSJ and the Financial Times. But quietly, some small- and medium-circulation papers are coming up with their own formulas to get readers to pony up for access to their websites. We checked in with some of these papers to find out how much they are charging and how they’re faring.

This is, by no means, a complete list. But one can draw some general conclusions by looking at the experiences of what is admittedly a very sample size. The newspapers tend to be located in smaller, often rural markets; online-only subscriptions are typically priced at a substantial discount to the print edition (in general, about 75% of what the print product costs); where numbers are available, the number of online subscribers is still a tiny percentage of their print counterparts (less than 5%); and many of these papers say they began charging not so much to make money online, but rather to protect sales of their print editions.

Newspaper: Daily Gazette
City: Schenectady, New York
Average paid circulation: 44,242
Pricing plan: Online-only subscriptions are available for $2.95 a week; while print subscribers, who pay $3.00 a week for home delivery, can pay an additional penny each week to also get unlimited access to the website as well as to an electronic edition. Blogs, AP stories, TV schedules, photo galleries, and breaking news remain free.
When pay wall was introduced: August 2009, although the paper was already charging readers to access the electronic edition
Results: Website traffic has plummeted by 40 percent in the three weeks since the Gazette started charging for most of its online content, including obituaries, managing editor Judy Patrick tells us. But she says “online subscriptions are slowly building.” There are 670 online-only subscribers.
Comment: The Gazette competes with the nearby Albany Times Union, which makes all of its content available for free, although it does charge 75 cents to access a digital copy of the paper. It’s too early to tell how the Times Union’s traffic has fared.

Newspaper: Valley Morning Star
City: Harlingen, Texas
Average paid circulation: 23,294
Pricing plan: Online-only subscriptions are available for 75 cents a day, $3.95 a month, or $39.50 for the year. Daily print subscribers get free access to web content and also to an e-edition of the paper. Weekend subscribers have to pay an additional $3.16 per month for online access, while Sunday-only subscribers have to pay $3.56 a month. Event listings, obituaries, AP stories, video, blogs, and classifieds all remain free.
When pay wall was introduced: July 2009
Results: A representative did not respond to a request for comment, but since the Morning Star started charging for online content in mid-June, another Freedom Communications daily, the Lima News, has followed suit. Traffic to the Morning Star’s website was actually slightly up in July, according to Compete.
Comment: “It will allow greater value to our many loyal print-edition subscribers by not giving away the news to non-subscribers, Valley Morning Star Publisher Tyler Patton said in announcing the move. The Morning Star is the only daily in Harlingen.

Newspaper: Newport Daily News
City: Newport, R.I.
Pricing plan: Online-only subscriptions cost $5 a day, $10 a week, $35 a month, or $345 a year. Print and online combo subscriptions cost $11 a month or $100 a year. Obituaries, classifieds, blogs, and a copy of the front page are available for free online.
When pay wall was introduced: June 2009
Results: Publisher Buck Sherman told us that the goal was to “drive people back to the printed paper” and not to bring in online revenue. He says that so far “we have done well,” adding that single-copy sales are up 8 percent. Website traffic is down by about 30 percent since the paper began to charge, according to Compete figures.
Comment: The Daily News model grabbed headlines earlier this year because the paper was charging substantially more for the electronic edition of the paper than the print one. Competition is limited, with the much bigger Providence Journal pulling back on statewide coverage.

Newspaper: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
City: Little Rock, Ark.
Average paid circulation: 182,789
Pay model: Online-only subscriptions, which include access to an electronic edition, are available for $5.95 a month or $59 a year. Print subscribers get online access for free.
When pay wall was introduced: 2002
Results: Publisher Walter Hussman told the Guardian that the Democrat-Gazette charges in order to drive newsstand sales. The paper’s average daily paid circulation is down about 1 percent since it put up its pay wall. Revenue from online subscription sales amounts to only about $200,000 a year.
Comment: The Democrat-Gazette is the only newspaper in Little Rock. It’s the largest local daily in the U.S. to charge for online access.

Newspaper: Albuquerque Journal
City: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Average paid circulation: 101,810
Pay model: The Journal charges $110 a year (or $38.25 for three months) for full access to the paper’s website, along with an electronic edition of the paper. Readers can also pay $185 a year for a subscription to the print edition, the electronic edition and online access. Alternatively, they can pay $153 a year for home delivery and online access.
When pay wall was introduced: 2001
Results: Assistant Managing Editor Donn Friedman says that between 1,500 and 2,000 people pay extra each month for some sort of additional online access—a number that he says has “remained fairly consistent” over the past eight years. Each month, about 300 people who go to the site and then see a notice saying that they need either an online or print subscription to access online content sign up for some sort of subscription, he says. Paid daily circulation is down about 6 percent since the newspaper instituted the pay wall. Asked whether it has been a success, Friedman says, “We are still committed to the print retention model and the idea that our content has value.”
Comment: The rival Albuquerque Tribune was shut down last year, although the Journal still competes with the Santa Fe New Mexican, although it has a smaller staff.

Newspaper: Bend Bulletin
City: Bend, Oregon
Average paid circulation: 32,682
Pay model: Online-only subscriptions are available for $8 a month or $96 a year. Prnt subscribers pay $11 a month or $132 a year for home delivery, in addition to online access. The paper says that on average 30 local news, business, sports, features and entertainment articles are kept behind a pay wall each day.
When pay wall was introduced: 2005
Results: There are 1,200 online-only subscribers, says New Media Director Jan Even.
Comment: The Bulletin is the only daily newspaper in Bend.

Other papers that charge readers for online content include the Tribune of Lewiston, Idaho, the Idaho Press-Tribune of Nampa, Idaho, and the Herald Times of Bloomington, Ind.

Any other newspapers to add?

By Joseph Tartakoff