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 bi…

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photo: Flickr / from a second story.

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 percent 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 percent); 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,

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  1. Quick takeaway– charging for news online does not work.

  2. Yes, Education Week, a national paper covering K-12 education issues, has had a pay wall for its site since 2005. We're still here to tell the tale, & in fact generate a large chunk of revenue from our non-print publications. (full disclosure, i'm the site's online production manager)

  3. Charging for the current format of news don't work. I believe charging for content will work once they are willing to produce infomedia work paying for.

    There is an underlying issue that these newspaper people won't admit regarding charging for content because it involves them. They do not want to fess up and admit they need better quality and better qualified writers to produce news and media content.

    The current status quo of news writers relied upon advertisers and sponsors to underwrite their works and these writers did not have the incentive to produce high quality news content.

    Notice you hear a lot about proposed business models on how to charge for content but very little on how to adapt the organization to produce quality news content.

    No talk of attaching writers salary and bonus to producing paid content. No talk of producing premium infomedia that provides extension background. No recruitment of real-world experience people to turn into premium writers.

    The status quo cannot look at themselves in the mirror and they still want to produce tabloid style media and expect someone to pay for it.

  4. Another paper to add: The Manhattan (Kansas) Mercury.

  5. The "drive people back to the print" argument is an incredible example of not understanding anything about what is happening. No doubt some publications will have fleeting success stopping the bleeding but the notion that grossly overpricing their web sites will serve to reverse technology is insane.

    Also, it may be time for some of them to wonder if they got over for years, getting far more for their ads than they were sometimes worth, and in doing so became lazy, high cost producers who cannot compete in a real marketplace.

    For all the crying about "giving away" content, weren't they doing that anyway? How many newspapers or magazines were covering more with subscriber dollars than just the cost of printing and delivering, costs they do not have online. Editorial was always paid by advertising. If it costs me $2 a month to deliver a magazine to a sub and be pays $19.99 a year, for example, I am already ahead $4. The problem is valuation of online ads versus print.

    Comparing a fleeting online impression to an ad in a single issue creates a flawed CPM comparison. But all the effort into coming up with creative ways to get people to pay online (which they are never going to do for most publications) should go into creating the valuable model for online ads. By propping up ancient print editions they allow advertisers to postpone making the leap online with those dollars that go to the print publication. If the local print paper vanished does anyone not believe that traffic and advertising on the web site would rise?

    Lastly, every small paper in the US apparently feels that every nugget in their papers represent journalistic excellence that people cannot do without. Most of it is highly replaceable news or simplistic articles more suited to passing time on the train commute than as do or die information.

    Back in the day there were few other ways for people to get this information so they read the paper. But the cat is out of the bag…people have hundreds of choices now and the monopoly on information delivery is gone forever.

    Learn how to compete, cut costs, and embrace the efficiencies that the online world offers. Or die a slow death delayed slightly with these stunts.

  6. Interestingly, the plain message seems to be that web sites are expendable.

  7. Jean-Christophe Nothias Thursday, September 3, 2009

    Turn your eyes to Old Continent and visit mediapart.fr. A spin-off from Le Monde that is pure online media charging 9€ per month. 30 journalists trying to produce quality content. So far, more than 22 000 subscribers. Revenue is to get close to 2 M€ in 2009. A true experience to watch.

    @ted : quick takeaway : charging for quality news online works.
    @ed nunn : you've got the keystone argument!!

  8. Perhaps publishers who charge should consider creating a vibrant Social aspect to their online offerings as another exclusive, added-value for their paying customers. The ability to contribute, participate and network might be a big draw if publishers create a stimulating, active online community, a townhall if you will where thought leaders really need to be. Something to consider (Note: I am CEO of a white label social media platform company)

  9. Looks to me like, at least in the Little Rock example, putting up a pay wall has a fairly strong track record — seven years — of preserving the print circulation. My take-away is that, if you provide a strong local news report, perhaps you can shore up the newspaper by charging nominally for online access. Flat circulation since 2002 is a real success story compared to the plunge that many other newspapers have seen, particularly in the regional/small metro market. Perhaps we ought to look at those crazy fellas in Little Rock as being a little less crazy!

  10. @ Craig – it works for you/edweek because its niche and unique content.

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