The Tulsa World Will Try A Paywall (Again)

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Four days after the New York Times rolled out its metered paywall system, the Tulsa World, a 93,558-circulation daily in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is announcing its own similar plans. The paper says that beginning Monday readers will be able to read 10 articles a month free online before being prompted to pay between $14.99 and $16.99 for a digital subscription if they are not already print subscribers. That’s in line with the fees charged by other major local dailies that have recently introduced paywalls, including the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and Dallas Morning News.

Web editor Jason Collington tells us the close timing of his paper’s announcement with the New York Times‘ own paywall debut was coincidental, saying the World had “this date on the schedule for months.” Still, the World does note in its introductory message (via Romenesko) on the plan that this is “a model being adapted by small and large media companies throughout the country: from the Augusta, Ga., Chronicle to the New York Times (NYSE: NYT) and the Dallas Morning News.”

This is in fact the second time that the World has tried to charge online readers. The paper decided to charge $60 a year for an online-only subscription in 2000 — and had attracted 2,000 online-only subscribers by the time it was taken down in 2005, according to a Newspaper Association of America report. Publisher Robert Lorton III told the NAA that the removal of the paywall resulted in a tripling of the newspaper’s online pageviews and online ad revenue that was more than seven times what the World had been able to bring in from online subscriptions.

“I think we made the right decision going free versus paid,” Lorton told the trade association in March 2009. “You can’t make a living on that model [charging subscribers $5-7 a month]…We are like the music industry, all we do is produce content. How the user takes it, that’s what we’re dealing with now.” In today’s announcement, Lorton does not explain why he reversed course and instead says, “With the changing landscape in our profession, we believe it is important to charge a fair price for access to the news and information that we produce.”

We will be watching closely to see if the Times‘ roll-out this week now leads to an acceleration in the number of top-100 U.S. dailies adopting online paywalls. Over the last six months, we had already seen a number of newspaper chains, including Media General (NYSE: MEG), A.H. Belo (NYSE: AHC) and Rust Communications, begin to charge users who access online content at some of their papers for the first time, using their own systems or those built by Journalism Online and the new Google (NSDQ: GOOG) OnePass. Collington tells us the World, which has been owned by the Lorton family since 1917, built its own metered-system in-house using a team of nine web developers and four web designers.


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