Sunday, March 01, 2009

Hearst Corp. to Begin Charging for Online Content

Earlier this week, Newsday said it would begin charging for access to its online content. I commented that it wouldn't be too successful if the majority of online content continued to be free. Well, it appears the Hearst Corporation, owner of 16 daily newspapers, is going to start charging for at least some of its digital content.

Besides the dailies, the Hearst Corporation owns 49 weeklies. The dailies are:
  • Albany Times Union
  • Beaumont Enterprise
  • Connecticut Post
  • Edwardsville Intelligencer
  • Greenwich Time
  • Houston Chronicle
  • Huron Daily Tribune
  • Laredo Morning Times
  • Midland Daily News (Michigan)
  • Midland Reporter-Telegram (Texas)
  • The News-Times
  • The Advocate (Stamford)
  • Plainview Daily Herald
  • San Antonio Express-News
  • San Francisco Chronicle
  • Seattle Post-Intelligencer
But all these papers face the same problems the rest of the newspaper industry does: a declining readership and lower ad rates. In fact, on February 24th, Hearst threatened to close down the San Francisco Chronicle unless massive concessions were made by employees.

As I've noted before, these papers need to come up with a way to monetize their free online content. And in a memo obtained by the Wall Street Journal, at least some of the digital content currently available on Hearst's websites will be paid for (emphasis mine)
Exactly how much paid content to hold back from our free sites will be a judgment call made daily by our management, whose mission should be to run the best free Web sites in our markets without compromising our ability to get a fair price from consumers for the expensive, unique reporting and writing that we produce each day.

We ask our readers to pay for their subscriptions on the Kindle today, and we must begin doing the same thing on the iPhone and other advanced smart phones and reading devices that allow us to create a user experience worth paying for. We also need to make our paid product available through the Internet for those who prefer to read it that way.
As Internet advertising revenue has declined, much as advertising revenue for print newspapers has declined, this may indeed be the only way for newspapers and other media to survive, by charging for their content.

It's not quite as simple as just charging a subscription, however. It may, according to Ward Bushee, Executive VP and Editor of the Chronicle, instead focus on print content that is considered exclusive to the print version, and not included, to give subscribers and those who pay something extra for their dollar. He said this in an interview with local radio station KCBS this weekend.

He added that European papers rely less on advertising and charge higher daily and subscription rates; that's still another possibility, but that might just drive more to free online content.

Time will tell, but I can't imagine a time without newspapers at all.

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