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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.

11 Responses to “The Tulsa World Will Try A Paywall (Again)”

  1. Collington must be imagining things or else he’s really spinning and is out of control. I just checked the comments sections of the stories most likely to get comments in the past, before the paywall. Average is 0 to 4 comments. Before the paywall, interesting stories ran 20 to 80, sometimes more,esp. stories about raising taxes and Islam. Jay Cronley’s column today is nasty and directed at those of us who don’t pay so stopped reading and commenting. Very instructive I think. As for the 1.5 M comments “recently”, check back and you’ll see it was before the paywall. How did he reach this figure…. add all the comments from the beginning? One other thing unmentioned: the Tulsa World has been going downhill in its reporting and writing for several years. They laid off approx. 45 good reporters/writers in the last 2 years and newbies and “human interest” stories are supposed to be news now. The people of Tulsa are not stupid and will not pay to read this local paper.

    • I think those numbers are manipulated. You have so many sock puppets on that forum. Normally, multiple accounts created by one user are not allowed on any forum. Sharing single accounts also is allowed. User post to the same profiles over and over again. It’s an old blog trick to ‘up’ the marketing stat numbers. I don’t think there are many users on that forum. Jason punts the users who he can’t control all the time. This is obviously a private forum that allows a lot of spam as well.

  2. I no longer visit the Tulsa World website. I can’t afford the subscription.
    If Lorton stated he was making good money utilizing online ads, why would he suddenly decide to go back to the pay wall? Did he lose a bet or something?

  3. Jeremy Wentworth

    No, I believe Jason was referring to the social network that is built into the Tulsa World website. Each user has the ability to create a profile, make friends, send messages (both public and private), participate in groups, earn awards, participate in contests, follow bloggers or other users, have a profile for their pets, and other features that one would expect from a social network. Features are added on a fairly regular basis as suggested by users or dreamed up by the staff. As Jason mentioned, the participation is robust.

  4. Jason Collington

    Randy: Thanks for the post about our site. We already have a local conversation going on at to the tune of more than 1,700 comments posted to our stories each day. We recently hit 1.5 million comments posted to the site. We also have tens of thousands of users in our own social network. If you have ideas on how to build on this success, we welcome it.

  5. Paywalls don’t work, as Tulsa World should have already learned. This is a means to an end. They need to look seriously at changing their business model. Hey Tulsa World, contact us ( We’re transforming the newspaper business into something with a revenue model that works in the world we live in today. It’s time you embrace social media and the local conversation. It’s time you become the curator of the local conversation. Look around you at the enormous success companies are having with social media. While your brand and relationships are (still) strong, you need to make the move.