Gannett Tries Out Paywalls At Three Papers

Gannett (NYSE: GCI) is joining some of the other big newspaper chains in testing paywalls at several of its papers, possibly in preparation for a wider rollout. Poynter‘s Bill Mitchell has the rundown, saying that Gannett is now charging $9.95 per month for full online access to The Tallahassee Democrat, The Greenville News, and The Spectrum. Print subscribers will continue to get free online access.

That’s in line with the model that most other papers with paywalls have taken, although Gannett VP Kate Marymont tells Mitchell, “we know this is not the model, this is a small-scale test”. A spokeswoman tells us the the “learnings and insights we gain from these tests will help us develop our long term strategy for paid content,” adding that because of the company’s size — it’s the top newspaper publisher in the country by circulation — it “can try different options without disrupting our business.”

In an article in the Democrat (which I had to pay $2 for a day pass in order to read), the paper’s publisher and executive editor seem more certain that charging online in some way is the future saying, “It no longer seems fair to have only half of our readers pay for content while the other half reads for free online. This is about changing how we do business, not simply putting up a paywall on digital content.”

Gannett had not hinted that any paywall experiments were coming (as far as I can find), although the company did participate in a secretive industry-wide conference on the topic last year.

The move come roughly three months after Gannett Chief Digital Officer Christopher Saridakis quit. Saridakis opposed paywalls, saying in a farewell memo that the “industry is going about it all wrong” and that “limiting access to content through pay walls minimizes the chances a consumer has in promoting your product.” He instead advocated a “paid access” model under which readers would be charged one fee to access content on various platforms.

Other newspaper chains are also either beginning to test or are already testing paywalls at some of their local sites in order to determine whether wider rollouts would work: Dow Jones’ local media group put up paywalls at two of its eight papers in January and said its other papers would decide among themselves whether to follow their lead. A.H. Belo (NYSE: BLC) had said it will soon try out charging users for online access to some Providence Journal articles, although it doesn’t look like the company has started doing so yet. And MediaNews, which said it would test a metered model at two of its papers beginning in May, says it will now do so in July.

Freedom Communications, which was one of the first national chains to test an online paywall at one of its papers in preparation for what was supposed to be a broader initiative, pulled the experiment earlier this year, citing reader feedback.