Hearst’s Swartz: Newspaper Digital Content Strategy Seeks To Balance Free, Paid Access


Despite all the revenue declines and layoffs across the industry this past year, Steven Swartz (pictured), Hearst Newspapers president, had a lot of cheerful things to say in a memo (via Romenesko) to the company’s staff. Noting that 2009’s difficulties don’t need repeating, Swartz offered a list of positive developments over the past year. Among the good news: four consecutive months of profit gains for the division (no detailed numbers, however). As further evidence of Hearst’s good fortune, Swartz also pointed out that the city of Albany, N.Y. has decided to forgive “thousands” of Times Union of parking tickets that were still outstanding.

On the digital side, Swartz touched on plans the Hearst Newspaper’s new digital strategy, which will be unveiled in January. Come next year, Hearst will extend its Nstein digital content management and distribution system for the newspaper division. Nstein is currently being used for the entertainment unit’s LMK.com aggregation site. In addition, Hearst’s editorial staffers will be pushed to develop more vertical channels, to highlight specific areas of coverage, such as the oil and gas industry in Texas markets or state government in Albany. One of the bigger changes coming next year will deal with the balance between free and paid access.

Swartz didn’t offer much detail about the paid content initiatives, writing only: “We will launch a paid version of our daily news and information product that will live inside the free web site and contain exclusives and higher levels of customization.” He also mentioned the joint venture with Time Inc. (NYSE: TWX), Conde Nast, Meredith (NYSE: MDP) and News Corp (NYSE: NWS). to create a single digital storefront for newspapers and magazines. That initiative is seen as a complement to Hearst’s efforts to engineer its own e-reader publishing platform, Skiff.

On the online ad revenue front, Swartz touted the company’s participation in the Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) Newspaper Consortium. Of the more than 800 newspapers in the consortium, all four Hearst metros are in the top 20 in sales. Also, Swartz claimed that the Houston Chronicle is the Yahoo consortium’s number one seller by more than $1 million, though he didn’t offer other specifics about the revenues the company has generated from the partnership.

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