Can Online Finally Pay 0ff?: Journalism Online Co-Founder Gordon Crovitz Thinks So-And Discusses How His Company Plans to Make It Happen

By Moynihan, Shawn | Editor & Publisher, August 2010 | Go to article overview

Can Online Finally Pay 0ff?: Journalism Online Co-Founder Gordon Crovitz Thinks So-And Discusses How His Company Plans to Make It Happen


Moynihan, Shawn, Editor & Publisher


JOURNALISM ONLINE HAS ARRIVED on the paid-content scene with the purpose of providing publishers a wider variety of options in charging for online access. With its Press+ service, publishers can determine which of its Web offerings will carry a price tag, which readers will find it most valuable, and exactly what that price will be. Those revenues will be split by page views among the participating publishers.

The company's Reader Revenue Platform offers the flexibility of charging from single-article micropayments to all-you-can-read bulk subscriptions across multiple publications. Once readers register for a universal Press+ username and password, they can use the same login to purchase content across all Press+ affiliate sites.

Former Wall Street Journal Publisher Gordon Crovitz, one of the partners in this venture and no stranger to charging for online content, spoke with E&P about Journalism Online and how it might enable newspaper publishers to finally start turning "digital dimes" into hard profits.

While deciding to become a Journalism Online affiliate, what kind of critical questions should newspapers ask you?

The first issue for publishers is to identify the core of what readers expect from each brand and what journalism or other services the publisher provides that are distinctive and even unique. People will not pay to access commodity content available elsewhere for free. The second issue is to assess the readership, knowing that different readers will value full access differently so that publishers can establish optimal pricing. We urge publishers to embrace the "freemium" model, recognizing that almost all Websites have both casual readers, who should continue to get some access for free, and deeply engaged readers who will pay a reasonable amount for full access.

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This freemium approach has worked very well for publishers such as WSJ.com, FT.com and ConsumerReports.org, as well as many companies in other industries, from online games to online music. Pandora, for example, is a provider of streaming music online that is free, but about 10% of its users pay for the premium service.

Once we work with a publisher to understand its brand, content and audience engagement, the Press+ e-commerce platform is designed to give publishers many ways to experiment with different approaches to learn what works best. Most publishers now are using our metered access model--free access to a select number of page views per month, then asking the most frequent visitors to pay for full access. This is an elegant application of the freemium approach and will deliver publishers much more revenue from subscriptions and advertising than the old-fashioned paywall, where even readers who will not pay for access are cut off. Our mission is to help publishers only ever to ask people to pay for access who will pay.

Publishers might start with a high meter--say, 20 or 25 free page views per month--then track performance and over time lower the meter to, say 10 page views per month. Publishers get to have their cake and eat it, too: They maximize their advertising revenues while adding very profitable digital subscription revenues.

Can you say yet which newspapers are on board?

We're working with some 1,500 news publishers around the world--newspapers, magazines, broadcasters, online sites and bloggers. Each publisher will communicate its plans to its readers as it launches paid-access models. Some publishers working with us, such as MediaNews Group, have indicated that they are launching paid services using the Press+ platform.

Publishers tend to want to hear success stories before they embrace new ways of doing business. How do you convince them that your model will work, and do so across a mass of major publications in order to make it attractive option to other potential affiliates?

When we started Journalism Online over a year ago, publishers were still asking whether they should try to charge for digital access. …

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