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VOL. 126 | NO. 187 | Monday, September 26, 2011

CA Moves Forward With Pay Wall

By Sarah Baker

Print | Front Page | Email this story | Email reporter | Comments ()

The E.W. Scripps Co. has selected its largest-circulation newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, as a guinea pig market for a paid digital content plan.

By the middle of October, subscribers to the printed newspaper – including Sunday-only subscription holders – will receive access to all of The Commercial Appeal’s digital platforms as part of their paid subscription. Non-print subscribers will be able to subscribe to the paper’s digital offerings for $9.99 per month or $.99 per day.

Online visitors to the www.commercialappeal.com site that are not subscribers will receive 10 free stories a month before being prompted to log in. But a subscriber in print or a subscriber to the digital platforms will never hit the metered pay wall on the website, said The Commercial Appeal publisher Joe Pepe.

It’s an initiative Scripps has been working toward for almost two years, Pepe said, based on the increasing demand throughout its markets to get news and information on multiple platforms.

“The work done for The Commercial Appeal can be easily adapted to the 12 other Scripps newspapers,” Pepe said. “If the apps work as well here as they seem to be working at the launch, other Scripps papers may well take this technology and apply it to their own operations.”

All of the paper’s classified verticals – including auto, real estate and employment classified advertising, obituaries and some breaking news – will be free of charge and consumers will have unlimited access to them both on the app and the website.

The idea behind leaving those services complimentary, Pepe said, was strictly to benefit the paper’s advertisers.

“It is important for our advertisers that their messages are seen by everyone,” he said. “They’ve paid for our entire audience so we owe it to them.”

So far, the feedback about the quality and functionality of The Commercial Appeal’s iPhone, iPad and Android apps has been well received, Pepe said. Plans for the pay wall structure, on the other hand, have garnered mixed reviews.

“Those few people who valued our content but have not been paying for it raised some eyebrows,” he said. “They have lamented the fact that they now have to pay like everybody else – but that’s the new digital world we live in and must pursue just as Apple, The New York Times and other media have done.”

The New York Times recently launched a similar offering to The Commercial Appeal’s, allowing 20 free clicks a month. But if a subscriber posts a link to an article from The New York Times on social media, a non-user has the ability to click and read.

For the time being, Pepe said, The Commercial Appeal will operate in a similar fashion.

By design, these sorts of “leaky pay walls” give the paper leverage over its devoted following, while also not hampering traffic from the informal reader, said Dr. Carrie Brown-Smith, assistant professor in the Department of Journalism at the University of Memphis.

“What they’re really doing is capturing value from their most loyal customers, but they’re making it pretty easy for the casual reader who doesn’t have that kind of incentive to still be able to get the news and to keep some of their ad revenues up that way,” Brown-Smith said. “But I think that strategy is going to be a real challenge in a local news landscape. The New York Times has a really strong national brand; it’s a little bit easier for them than it might be on the local front to pull this off.”

Meanwhile, The Memphis Business Journal, which operates under a Charlotte, N.C.-based parent company, has a “semi-pay wall” structure in place where it allows some free editorial content and some premium content visible only to paid subscribers. And so far, the model is working well, said publisher Stuart Chamblin.

“From that, what we’re seeing is increased circulation, because of people going, ‘Look, I can’t get everything I want,’” Chamblin said, adding that plans are under way to place more content in the “premium” category. “The critical thing is it really helps us drive our paid circulation.”

The Daily News offers free access to its editorial content at www.memphisdailynews.com. So far, the Memphis-based paper has no plans to charge for content, said publisher Eric Barnes.

“We continue to closely watch the changes in the industry,” Barnes said. “Online editorial content is, relatively speaking, still a new idea. I don’t think anyone has figured out how best to make money from it.”

The Commercial Appeal doesn’t anticipate any changes in its home delivery, but will continue to improve its Sunday newspaper package, Pepe said. Online comments will continue as they are for now, but the paper will adjust any policies regarding comments if need be.

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