OPA Intelligence Reports

Posted in News on 03/12/2012 By Mark Glaser & Desiree Everts

L.A. Times, Gannett rebrand ‘pay walls’ concept

Plenty of news sites, pinning their hopes on the successes of The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, implemented paid models last year. But the idea seems to be really taking hold in 2012—just make sure you don’t call them “pay walls.” “From a marketing standpoint, the word ‘pay wall’ is pretty terrible. Right away, it tells you there’s a barrier between you and what you want, and the only way to negotiate it is to pay,” said Nieman Journalism Lab’s Justin Ellis. “So it’s not surprising that media companies, used to working with words, are using alternatives.” Near the end of last month, Gannett announced the biggest initiative yet, with plans to move all of its 80 community papers over to a “subscription model” by the end of the year. And more recently, The Los Angeles Times launched a “membership program” that lets site visitors read 15 stories per month before charging for access. The Times says the program gives readers “retail discounts, deals and giveaways, as well as access to digital news.”

Still, there are some questions about whether the metered system of The New York Times, which draws a national audience, will translate well to more regional news outlets like Gannett’s community papers. News sites will also need to consider how pay walls will affect their social media goals, said Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenore, noting that there’s no “one size fits all” strategy. Plus, a significant hurdle for all papers is that free content is still plentiful online, The Wall Street Journal’s Russell Adams pointed out. “Most publishers are giving full online access to existing print subscribers, so the pool of potential new digital subscribers is relatively small.” Nevertheless, he said, the industry has “little choice but to keep trying.” TheWrap’s Lucas Shaw agreed, saying that at least pay walls create a new revenue stream and will get people used to paying for online content. “By forcing paying users to register, the papers also gather more information about the reader, positioning them to better target online advertising, at a time when print advertising is the lowest it has been in 60 years,” he wrote.

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