Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

February 17, 2009


Tim Windsor, Neiman Lab - The topic of "paid content" has once again grabbed the spotlight, offering at least a slim hope of revenue redemption to some newspaper people - largely on the print side, but with some notable digital advocates as well. . .

But can we learn anything from paid content attempts in the past? After all, this has been tried at varying levels before. Until The New York Times opens the books on its mothballed Times Select service, which kept certain content - mainly columnists and archives - behind the pay wall, these two examples, from 2003-2005, will have to serve as examples:

In 2003, latimes.com put its popular Calendar Live section behind a pay wall in order to generate revenue online and stimulate print subscriptions. Calendar Live mixed arts and pop culture reviews with events listings. Access to the section was $4.95 a month or $39.95 a year. Print subscribers could access the site for free.

In the first six months of the paid program, about 15,000 print subscribers registered and 3,674 online-only registrants ponied up the cover charge. Total take, about $63,000.

During that same period, visits to the site dropped from 1.4 million a month to 540,000 a month, a 61% drop. And most of those visits were from visitors who turned away at the wall.

Even worse, total visitors to the site - people who read and interacted with content - plunged from a high of 729,000 in July 2003, the month before the wall went up, to about 19,000 total registered visitors. That's a drop of 97% in actual audience.

In 2003-4, it would have been difficult to read about "paid content" and newspapers without hearing about the experiment at The Albuquerque Journal. As The Journal's Donn Friedman put it at the time:

"Since we closed off our site to all but paying subscribers two years ago, 35,000 print newspaper subscribers have signed up to use the site. Almost 2,000 people are now paying either $8 per month or $60 per year for online-only subscriptions. That's more than $100,000 in truly new revenues generated by subscriptions…

"If the Journal is earning $100K or $250K or even $500K by selling advertisers its now smaller but paying audience, even adding the $100K in online subscription revenue to that probably means this site is earning half or less than an equal-sized newspaper's free site with a coherent advertising & marketing plan."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been reading the ABQ Journal on-line for free for many years. You can click on an ad to get in (of course I go to another website while the stupid ad is playing). It is a poorly designed site with too many bells and whistles and dead ends, no apparent ordanization, neo-con bias, and censorship of reader's opinions.
I would maybe pay to get in - since it now has the monopoly of ABQ daily newspapers - but only if they charged 25 cents or less per year.

February 18, 2009 9:02 AM  

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