When the Newspaper Pay Wall Goes Up

Editor and Publisher is reporting that Journalism Online, the payments infrastructure platform, now has more than 500 papers (I had incorrectly said “publishers”) signed up:

[The company] has signed 176 dailies as affiliate partners. In total, more than 500 newspapers, magazines and other sites have agreed to join Journalism Online representing more than 90 million monthly unique users.

All the decisions regarding how to charge and what to charge for reside with the individual publishers.

My belief is that people will pay for content in selected circumstances or if somehow the entire culture of online news consumption is changed. This platform thus allows hundreds of publishers to more or less at once flip the switch on paid content models. If they essentially all do it at once, they’ve got a shot and changing the culture. The flexibility that the platform allows avoids anti-trust inquires into the effort.


  • Will alternative free sources of news rise in appeal: radio sources, TV affiliates, online video?
  • How will a return to pay walls affect the Yahoo-newspaper advertising consortium? (that depends on how much is gated and how many people are paying. Worst case: most of a site is gated and most people aren’t paying).

Online paid content models that may or may not be working:

  • WSJ
  • Angie’s List
  • Consumer Reports
  • Zagat
  • Salon
  • Dating

What would you be willing to pay for?

  • Individual articles (micro-payments)
  • Access to a group of articles from multiple publications (e.g., 20 articles a month)
  • Access to a publication (like the WSJ)
  • Print + online (If you buy online at price X you get print too)
  • Free and ad supported or ad free with subscription
  • Other models I haven’t thought of

9 Responses to “When the Newspaper Pay Wall Goes Up”

  1. David Mihm Says:


    Here’s why I think that the ‘flipping the switch all at once’ tactic won’t work: whoever stands alone (Huffington Post?) and remains free will reap the lion’s share of all news traffic and make a HUGE profit just from selling display, let alone contextual, ads.

    WRT the content that newspapers have traditionally published, I would only pay for editorial content that I couldn’t find anywhere else. An example is a core set of columnists at the NYT like David Brooks, Tom Friedman, and Frank Rich.

    Pure news is a commodity and I can get it from any number of different sources, including Twitter.

  2. Greg Sterling Says:

    The NYTime got rid of Times Select (which was the columnist content and some other stuff) because they calculated they could make more with ads on free pages with higher traffic.

    Don’t think that everyone will flip the switch simultaneously; that was just hypothetical.

    Good seeing you yesterday.

  3. David Mihm Says:

    Re:TimesSelect, very interesting…so why wouldn’t they adjust their cost structure to feature more editorial content and lease pure news that isn’t as high-volume from external sources?

    Always great to see you, too. Hope your Pre is working better today 🙂

  4. Greg Sterling Says:

    David: here’s the story on Times Select: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/18/business/media/18times.html?hp

    Don’t know re Pre today . . . 🙂

  5. Jason Butler Says:

    I think it will be a boon for the local radio/tv stations and independent publications.

    Here in Boston, WEEI (the sports station) has bulked up its original content with several online-only reporters and columnists in addition to on-air staff. If the Globe and the Herald wall off their sports sections, ‘EEI would happily slurp up all the demand for game stories and columns.

  6. Andy Vogel Says:

    One of the things we saw with our paid product, “PackerInsider.com” was that people as early as 2003 were willing to pay for deep content. I think that where newspapers need to focus any walls they develop. Simply charging for content to wide content will likely not work. So, for each local paper that has deep content – they’ve got a good chance of charging something.

    We were not able to do a lot with pricing models and testing what or how people would pay for the Packers content. I would expect there are lots of different pricing models being contemplated. One of the approaches I always wanted to try was co-mingling a targeted print product with walled deep online content.

  7. troy Says:

    Recently, a local newspaper started delivering to our neigborhood for FREE. At first, I just tossed it away but now I’m actually reading it in the morning. I noticed the newspaper has a lot of ads and inserts. Maybe the newspaper publishers should copy the yellowpages publishers and delivery their products for free. The decline in readership will be less obvious if the newspapers were free.

  8. Greg Sterling Says:


    There are a number of papers that use this model already. However, I would have to investigate to see how they’re doing. Certainly it guarantees broader distribution.

  9. Google Offering Micropayments To Newspapers « Screenwerk Says:

    […] It’s pretty clear that Google well understands online consumer behavior and psychology. The Google payments platform would compete with several other initiatives in the market, including Steven Brill’s Journalism Online. […]

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