A few answers have started to emerge about the effect of paid online content, said The New York Times yesterday. The paper looked at what it describes as "Steven Brill's Journalism Online experiment:" a service that allows newspapers to develop a tailored paid model and, for example, charge more frequent readers to read online while allowing occasional visitors free access.
Journalism Online, whose system is called Press+ has worked with about two dozen local small and medium size papers, the New York Times said, and analysis on its preliminary data suggests that advertising revenue did not decline and monthly unique visits only fell by up to 7% following the introduction of a paid online model. Page views fell by up to 20%.
"Newspapers found success with a pay model by setting a conservative limit for the number of articles visitors could read free each month, and by making clear that most readers would not be affected," the New York Times said. Brill, co-founder of the initiative, said that most papers set a limit of 5-20 free articles per month and charged monthly subscription fees of around $3.95 to $10.95.
It is necessary to note that the NYT itself is planning to introduce a similar paywall in upcoming weeks, based on the idea of a 'metered model' which will require only heavy users of the site to pay. It is difficult to make any predictions about the success or failure of the NYT's paywall, given that it is far larger than many of the papers Journalism Online is involved with, and that it occupies a relatively unique position in the minds of many Americans and others around the world.
The Times of London implemented a very different type of paywall last summer, which entirely blocks off content to those who are not prepared to pay (or who are not print subscribers.) The principle seems to be simplicity, with no doubt as to whether content is subscriber-only or not, which could be an issue with more porous paid models. So far, traffic to the Times and Sunday Times has dropped dramatically, though not unexpectedly. It is as yet unclear how the initiative is faring financially. At News Corp's Australian newspapers, the intention is to introduce a paid model more similar to that at the Wall Street Journal, with some content available to non-subscribers.
Many English-language papers have no plans to charge online as yet, with some, such as the Guardian or Daily Mail, seemingly firmly committed to a mass free audience rather than a small paying one. Some nonprofits, such as ProPublica which is also using Journalism Online's system, have chosen to ask rather than require readers to pay for content.
Which model will eventually prove the most successful and which the most widespread? Will digital news ever be as profitable as print news was in its heyday?
Source: New York Times