The conventional wisdom among media executives is that if newspaper readers will pay for any online content, it’s most likely going to be financial news and possibly sports news. The Tuscaloosa News is about to put that to the test. The New York Times-owned paper has started a subscription-based offshoot of its sports news site, TideSportsExtra. The original TideSports site will remain free, at least for now. In exchange for more extensive coverage of the hometown’s University of Alabama’s athletics, readers will have to fork over $10 per month, or $59.95 per year, for site access. Considering the free site drew about 350,000 uniques last month, according to Omniture figures provided by the NYTCo (NYSE: NYT), the paper betting that a large fraction of that traffic will sign up.
It’s been just over four years since another site, Atlanta’s AJC.com, tried to make a go of a broad sports subscription site. While AJC claims it exceeded its goal of getting 3,000 subscribers, it says it decided it could do better with advertising revenues by letting users access it free. That said, some newspapers, like the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, which sells subscriptions its Packer Insider, which requires $44.95 for annually to access analysis of the NFL Green Bay team, or $6.95 per individual month. Another example, from the world of magazines, also suggests that there might be interest in selling sports readers on web content, as this summer, the free ESPNTheMag.com site morphed into ESPN (NYSE: DIS) Insider, which costs $39.95 for one year of service.
Whether there’s enough demand for certain types of online content to cover the cost of creating that content, of course, remains a huge question mark, especially in this economy. Until there’s more clarity on that, more newspapers are likely to dip their toes into the paid-content waters with attempts like this one and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s new online adjunct, PG-Plus.