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Dianne Elizabeth Osis: Unique content providers earn the right to charge.
Dianne Elizabeth Osis: Unique content providers earn the right to charge.

SBJ to roll out Web paywall

Posted online
Springfield Business Journal will begin charging Sept. 1 for access to some news and information currently free at sbj.net.

The decision has taken two to three years to make, said Dianne Elizabeth Osis, SBJ publisher, and it follows a trend of other niche publications.

Providence (R.I.) Business News already charges, and the Northern Colorado Business Report, Boulder County (Colo.) Business Report and Wyoming Business Report will roll out redesigned pay sites by early 2011.

“We’re not alone,” said Jennifer Jackson, Springfield Business Journal associate publisher. “Other media, certainly other publications like ours, are faced with the changing channels with which people are taking in their news.

“We are confident that we are offering media consumers something different and that we’re delivering a regional business niche,” Jackson added. “We’re equally confident that in order to maintain the value of what it is that we do, what it is that we provide, that we’ve got to charge for it.”

Osis said one of her primary reasons for making the decision is to continue to support the newsroom.

“We have specialized content, and we can’t provide it for free,” Osis said. “Our readers have come to expect in-depth coverage of Springfield and southwest Missouri business, and that just doesn’t invent itself,” she added. “I feel like we have unique content, and I want to keep it that way. We go out and find it, and focus it and refine it for our readers.”  

Some features, including a Daily Update e-mail, blogs, photo galleries and sbj.net/life, will remain free, and a “personal backstage pass,” including the Monday print edition, an early Friday digital edition and Daily Update stories, is $69, which is the current price of a print subscription. A full access “VIP pass”, including additional digital copies of the weekly edition and the digital Book of Lists, is $10 more.

The move is not an attempt to increase revenue as much as it is an effort to define and verify SBJ subscribers and readers, Jackson said.

“It’s not the typical pay-to-play model,” Jackson said. “They’re not going to be asked for a credit card. If they are a subscriber, they are now a full-access subscriber to everything.”

The primary goal is to maintain the SBJ print subscriber base.

“By choice, we audit our circulation,” Jackson said. “It’s always been important to us to tell our advertisers not just how many read our paper, but who they are. If people are able to replace their consumption of Springfield Business Journal online with no verification of who they are, then we can no longer verify to our advertisers that we’re delivering.”

She added that a newspaper’s revenue from circulation, including charging for Web content, is relatively small.

“There’s no question it does cover some of the costs but it’s never been a tool for profit,” Jackson said.

Convincing sbj.net readers who already are getting news for free that they should subscribe, Jackson said, shouldn’t be hard.

“The beauty of it is, our readers and subscribers already know it’s worth the value,” Jackson said. “And with the exception of needing to be aware of a user name and password, our current subscribers will recognize no difference when this goes live.”

Subscribers will continue to receive a print edition and comprehensive and breaking news coverage via the Web, she said.

“There’s a small few who are taking their news for free, and those are the ones who will be asked to pay to play,” Jackson said. “We’re banking on the fact that if they’re coming to our site regularly, if they’ve bookmarked us, it’s because they see value in the content and they’ll be willing to pay to receive it.”

According to recent newspaper survey findings, SBJ isn’t alone.

Missouri Press Association, of which SBJ is a member, has begun surveying its member newspapers, said Kent Ford, editor of the group’s magazine, newsletter and Web site.

“Lots of newspapers with Web sites are going to partial- or full-pay for digital editions,” Ford said. “Some are giving totally free access to Web sites as well as selling digital versions of newspapers, some are giving peeks to Web sites."

Newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times are offering tastes of their content on their Web sites but requiring subscribers to pay for complete content, Ford said.  

“Ten years or so back, the idea was to generate traffic,” Ford said. “To do that, you gave away content. Now, we have the traffic, but the print subscription list is suffering. Nobody else gives away their product, why should newspapers?”

Nearly 60 percent of newspapers are considering initiating paid access for currently open/free news and information Web site content, according to a survey on paid content revenue initiatives released in August at The American Press Institute’s Newsmedia Economic Action Plan Conference.

Despite two years of mulling in-house and with colleagues nationwide, Jackson acknowledged there is no proven answer or model.

“Waiting is not a legitimate tactic when it comes to technology,” Jackson said. “If we wait until first-quarter 2011 to see what comes around, we might as well be looking for a different boat.”

Osis said a small segment of readers believe they’re receiving all of what is available from SBJ by visiting the free site.

“It’s only there in bits and pieces, it’s spread out all over the place, it would take them all day to find what they want,” Osis said. “Some people don’t realize what they’re missing, and we’re going to focus their vision. We want them to have the whole story.”[[In-content Ad]]

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