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Paywalls Aplenty: Ad Age, Bloomberg and Rolling Stone All Plan to Charge [Updated]

Did someone in the digital content business decide that Monday, April 19, 2010 would be paywall day? You'd think so, given that Advertising Age, Bloomberg and Rolling Stone all announced plans to start charging for online content. Surprisingly, not one of them is planning to do it behind the shield of the iPad, which seems to be the target of many media properties' paid ambitions.

Here's a rundown:

  1. Ad Age will start the meter running after a user has accessed three stories in a day; previously, its content had a free shelf life of a week before going behind the firewall (although, based on my experience, that didn't apply to all content).
  2. Bloomberg, which today launched a new site that is also meant to be more advertiser-friendly, isn't saying much yet. But Kevin Krim, who runs the site, told, that after getting the kinks worked out of the redesign, the company will create a paywall that will be done "differently from others on the web."
  3. Rolling Stone unveiled a hybrid model as part of a redesign. Believe it or not, the legendary music magazine has never had its archive online; now that archive will be part of its All Access Pass, which will cost $3.95/month; $29.99/year or $22.44 a year for two-years. Subscribers to the All Access Pass will also get a digital version of the print issue as it goes on newsstands; day-to-day content will be free to everyone.
Even though we don't know how Bloomberg will construct its paywall, one thing should be clear: Content providers still don't know what they are doing when it comes to charging customers. For now, that has to be OK; think of it as experimentation. In a sense, it's not surprising that there appear to be three different business models. These three properties are coming at the paid market from different directions.

Ad Age, as a trade, should theoretically have more robust demand for paid content, as long as its readership can expense their online content purchases. Bloomberg has always been overwhelmingly digital, so it doesn't have to worry about hurting a legacy revenue stream. And Rolling Stone is mostly charging for content that has never been online in the first place.

Print had a single traditional pricing model; the early days of digital pay-for-play show that there are going to be numerous ones. One size fits all? That's so 20th century.

UPDATE: A Bloomberg spokesperson has elaborated on Kevin Krim's comments, telling us it is only looking at a paywall in "specific cases where it makes sense to provide a data-intensive premium offering to a group of subscribers." Most of the site will have an ad-only revenue stream.

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