Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Information May Want to Be Free, but Even Freedom Has Its Limits

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Information May Want to Be Free, but Even Freedom Has Its Limits

Article excerpt

While no U.S. newspaper is yet making a fortune by charging for access to its Web site, more publishers abandoned the all-free model last year. E&P found at least 21 daily newspapers now restrict most of their online editorial content to paying customers. Many of these papers allow print subscribers to access their Web sites for free, but a few levy extra Web charges on top of their home-delivery bills.

It should be noted that many newspaper sites that have remained largely free have nonetheless increased their paid-content revenue -- through archives, premium and niche content, and other special services. Many publishers are espousing a free/paid hybrid model where the bulk of their sites is free to all (increasingly with the caveat that users provide personal info in exchange for the free ride), while customers must pay for crosswords, games, and so forth. Some papers, such as Freedom Communications Inc.'s East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Ariz., offer limited free Web sites with about 20% of today's paper gratis, but charge for access to their complete content, in the form of electronic editions that replicate their print products. Others, such as The Boston Globe and the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, offer all of today's stories for free, but also sell electronic editions. "We see it as an alternative delivery method for the print paper," says Online Content Director Ginny Greene of The Gazette in Colorado Springs, Colo.

While these experiments continue, some analysts insist that the all- paid model is a bad idea for newspapers. "In most cases, online subscriptions are going nowhere fast," says Peter Krasilovsky, vice president of Borrell Associates Inc., Portsmouth, Va. His group has found that, on average, an equivalent of 1.2% of the print-circulation base will pay for Web access, while 16.6% of print subscribers will register when required to do so. "This has been the case since we began tracking paid/registration ratios almost two years ago," Krasilovsky says. "If you believe that traditional circulation/ advertising [revenue] ratios will continue to be roughly 1-to-3, our strong feeling is that you won't want to jeopardize the larger number by putting your stuff behind a firewall. …

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