Washington Post will 'probably' introduce a paywall in 2013, reports the paper

The Washington Post | The Wall Street Journal | Poynter

After years of resistance and industry debate about a paywall for The Washington Post, the paper reports it "will probably start charging online readers for access to newspaper articles in the middle of next year." Steven Mufson's story was published after The Wall Street Journal's Keach Hagey broke the news.

"One person familiar with the matter" told Hagey "the paywall will be introduced no earlier than next summer."

The likely paywall would allow unlimited access to the site's homepage and section fronts, says Mufson, but not to individual stories. Print subscribers would not pay more for digital access, he says.

Third quarter earnings were flat at The Washington Post Company, as broadcast and cable revenues rose while newspaper revenues dropped. The Washington Post continues to lose circulation at rates higher than the industry overall. At this week's UBS conference, Mufson reports,

"Asked by one investor analyst whether he thought the paper could improve profits by increasing revenue or cutting costs, [CEO Don] Graham said, “We will absolutely be having to bring costs down.”

Departing executive editor Marcus Brauchli was reportedly resistant to cuts while incoming editor Marty Baron expects to make them.

Graham praised Baron at UBS, while also hinting that his stance on paywalls was softening. Poynter's Rick Edmonds reported earlier this week that

Graham opened the door a crack to the possibility of a paywall at the Post. “We will continue to study it and see if we can find [a digital pay structure] that fits.”

But Graham reiterated a statement from earlier this year on why The New York Times’ “very intelligently designed,” successful digital pay plan is not a smooth fit for the Post.

The Times can deliver a printed paper anywhere in the country, Graham said, and print-digital bundles are critical to the plan’s success. The print Post is available only in the D.C., Metro area, so that path is not open.

Graham added that he is concerned that a quality metro like the Boston Globe [where Baron has been editor] has drawn only 25,000 subscriptions to its premium digital service in a year.

Also, the Post site draws 90 percent of its audience from outside the D.C., metro area, he said, “and generates a significant amount of digital ads” that he is reluctant to jeopardize.

More than 360 U.S. papers will charge for digital content by the end of the year, says News & Tech, including Gannett, Tribune, MediaNews, Media General papers now owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, and of course The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Coming next year are E.W. Scripps, McClatchy and others.

The average reader on a metered site sees 11 articles before encountering a paywall, according to a recent report by Press+, which also found that more articles lead to more subscription revenue.

Paywalls affect one-third of daily newspaper readers, Ebyline reported in July.

Related: CJR, long a Post paywall advocate, responds, "we think this is a very good and long overdue move." | The Daily Beast, after shedding the print edition of Newsweek along with staffers, is considering a paywall (Edmund Lee/Bloomberg) | "Paywalls may have prompted a mood-change in the industry, but is the worst really over?" (The Economist)


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