Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Express-News Caves on Web Site Fees

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Express-News Caves on Web Site Fees

Article excerpt

After three years of leading the charge for free-based access to online news, the San Antonio newspaper throws in the towel

Three years after it set out to pioneer an era of newspaper Web sites funded by paying visitors, the San Antonio Express-News has given up and dropped its online access fees.

The Texas newspaper has been an anomaly throughout the opening phase of the Internet age not only because of its dogged attempts to collect Web site entrance fees but also because of its public declarations that "this is the future of our industry."

Ian Murdock, director of new media at the Express-News, said the service had about 3,700 paying subscribers when it folded. He also noted that the dominant revenue model of the industry is a free-access structure that generates money through the sale of advertising and other services. "We were putting in an impediment to getting eyeballs (for banner advertisers) by having that fee," he explained.

Online newspaper subscription fees are typically for access to daily online news content and don't cover access to archived materials, other special premium services or databases that are marketed on many sites as separate e-commerce activities.

Total site redesign

The collapse of's subscription-based business model occurred quietly and was announced as part of a major redesign and overhaul of the site in March. Along with dropping the $4.95 monthly fee, has also increased the overall amount of information it contains and has added some original, Web-only editorial material in the form-of columns. It has also added database directories of local community institutions and organizations.'s fee cave-in did not surprise industry analysts who have been predicting failure for the revenue model for some time. They pointed out that across the country, the daily content of newspapers has not been able to exert enough "pull" to make readers pay for online access to it, except in the case of unique content such as that found in publications like the Wall Street Journal.

A lot of free supply

"The problem is there is a lot of supply for free," explained Bill Bass, an analyst who follows online newspapers at Forrester Research Inc. …

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