Paywalls have been erected by various news organizations over the past few years, but never has a paywall extended over a whole country. Nieman Lab reports that a group of media companies in Slovakia are attempting to do just that.
Nine major news organizations- including three broadsheet newspapers, a tabloid, two magazines and a television station- have partnered together through Piano Media for the project. The project launches today, April 18th, and will be free for the first two weeks. After that, users will pay €0.99 ($1.41/£0.87) per week or €2.90 ($4.14/£2.54) per month.
Piano Media's CEO Tomas Bella already attempted a paywall when he was the editor-in-chief of one of the country's leading broadsheets. Three other companies have attempted to put up paywalls with little success. They hope that this paywall- based off of the cable television model- will grant them success.
Bella's company will take 30 percent of revenue, giving the rest to the news organizations based on the amount of time users spend on their individual sites. According to paidContent, the organizations who have signed up are business paper Hospodarske noviny, Slovakia's oldest daily Pravda, sport paper Dennik Sport, weekly magazine Tyzden, media business site Medialne.sk, video portal MeToo.sk, and monthly IT magazine PC Revue. Leading broadsheet paper SME and Slovakia's number 2 TV station and video site JOJ and huste.tv are due to be signed, as well.
For the paywall, providers will be offering different things for users. Some will make articles available earlier to those who pay. Others will be offering ad-free sites. Users will have to pay to make comments, something publishers hope will elevate the level of conversation.
It's a flat-rate subscription, unlike, for example, the metered payment system at The New York Times', which offers several different options. A recent survey done in Canada showed that a majority of readers prefer a flat-subscription as a payment method, shying away from more complicated payment methods. That being said, the survey also showed that readers preferred to find free news sources, and only 30 percent would pay even if they had no other option.
Bella has already taken this into account. He estimated that between 0.8 and 1.5 percent of the 5.7 million Slovak population would sign up. If 1.5 percent sign up, paidContent reported the company's earnings would be €2.1 ($3/£1.84) million per year. As for the company's decision to charge a flat-subscription rate, Bella said, "We don't think it's a problem of people refusing to pay -- we don't think it's a problem of money. It's a problem of convenience. The complexity of the system and the complexity of which media will get what amount of money is hidden from the user."
If the venture succeeds, he plans on expanding to other one-language countries like Holland or Denmark. He conceded that implementing a payment model like his in larger countries like the United States- which has a large, uncountable amount of free online news sources- would be very difficult, if not impossible.