Nine months after it began requiring readers to pay to read more than 10 stories online per month, the New Bedford Standard-Times is pleased with the results so far, publisher Mary Harrington tells me.
The Standard-Times, which Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation acquired as part of its 2007 takeover of Dow Jones & Co., charges new subscribers $175 per year for full access to its SouthCoastToday.com – about $10 more than for the print edition. A combination print-online subscription costs $185 per year.
While working on this post about the Projo’s paywall plans, I e-mailed Harrington to ask how the Standard-Times’ experiment with online subscriptions was going. Here’s what she had to say:
TN: It’s now been just about 9 months since SouthCoastToday.com switched from an entirely free site to a metered model. How is it working? How many people have subscribed to the online version? Have you seen a significant drop-off in traffic to the site?
MH: We can state with confidence that charging for content online under our model has had a positive impact on South Coast Media. This strategy has proven itself instrumental in our effort to grow circulation revenue. On specific numbers, we will be relying on the Audit Bureau of Circulations reporting process to share those details. We can say, as expected, traffic is down. What’s important is that our digital strategy now aligns with our overall business strategy and is helping drive revenue.
TN: As a non-subscriber but occasional reader of SouthCoastToday stories, I’ve been surprised to find I still haven’t hit my limit in terms of the number of stories I can read for free per month. I haven’t kept close track, but is the limit still 10 articles per month, or has that been tweaked?
MH: Registered users continue to have access to up to 10 metered stories. There are some stories, though, that are not metered; these include wire stories, stories that involve critical information about a situation that threatens life or property (so hurricane threat reporting was not metered, for example), and stories by some of our non-daily products, which include the New England Business Bulletin.
While The Wall Street Journal has been charging online readers for years, the January launch of the S-T’s paywall kicked off a yearlong push by News Corp. to get more readers paying for Web access to its news content. (Nor is it the only local daily to go down that route; the Newport Daily News has been charging $345 per year for an online subscription since June 2009.)
Another of News Corp.’s papers, The Times of London, blocked non-subscribers (and Google) starting in July, with its U.K. tabloid, the News of the World, soon to follow. Bloomberg News had details in a story last week:
[Rupert's son] James Murdoch’s plan to charge for online access to U.K. tabloid News of the World shows he’s extending his paywall model even as advertisers flee websites of two of his other newspapers where Internet readers have to pay.
News of the World, which this month featured a video of boxer Ricky Hatton purportedly snorting cocaine and published an interview with a prostitute who said she had sex with Manchester United footballer Wayne Rooney while his wife was pregnant, will seek payment from Web readers from next month. The move follows Murdoch-controlled News Corp.’s July push to get London papers The Times and The Sunday Times into the online-pay arena.
With more people getting their news from the Internet, newspapers are increasingly charging for online access to make up for lost revenue from print advertising. Murdoch’s strategy to put all stories of his U.K. newspapers behind an online paywall differs from the approach of some other newspapers such as the Financial Times which first gives access to some stories online before it starts charging.