The paid content experiment: how newspapers are holding on

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With more and more free information constantly available at our fingertips, it’s becoming less necessary to pay for it.  Newspapers with plummeting print subscriptions have responded by launching subscription-based websites that put much of their content behind a paywall. Papers are creating cleaner, simplistic sites to enhance the loyal readers’ experience with the online publication. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and others have already seen success with this paid content experiment.

Now the Boston Globe has jumped on board. One week ago, the Globe launched BostonGlobe.com, an online version of the newspaper that will require readers to subscribe for a fee of $3.99 per week for non-Boston Globe subscribers and free for current print subscribers. This new “paid” website is not to be confused with Boston.com, a free site available to the general public. In fact, The Boston Globe has taken this opportunity to enhance this free site as well, recognizing that each product has two distinct audiences.

Boston.com is much more of an open forum that allows participation and conversation and remains much more local. In contrast, BostonGlobe.com will lend itself more to the avid newspaper reader. “BostonGlobe.com will also offer a cleaner reading experience, without the homepage takeovers or pop-ups used on the free Boston.com.” With this change there is an obvious concern among advertisers — however there is a great opportunity here that was somewhat unavailable with the free website.

With the “paid” website subscription, the BostonGlobe.com will be able to capture a more in-depth picture of their readers.  Information such as household income, level of education, and reading habits can all be tracked, giving advertisers a greater opportunity to target their audience more accurately.  Not to mention, the promise to offer fewer ads to their readers means advertisers are given the opportunity to appeal to readers in a less cluttered atmosphere.  This will certainly overcome the objections that advertisers have with Boston.com about its tendency to over crowd the site with advertising.

Advertising aside, the hidden agenda seems to be to find a strategy to hold paid print subscribers from jumping ship.  Even though Apple claims that no online newspaper should be given away as a free subscription, something tells me that this may at least hold print subscriptions for the meantime.  Time will tell.

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