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Paywall or Free For All: Where Are We Now?

Last year’s blog post “Read Between the Lines,” took a look at the changing business model for publishers as they made bold moves to expand their digital content. Part of that movement (and discussion) focused on the viability of paywalls.

In light of last week’s announcement that Newsweek will go to an all-digital format in 2013, I thought it would be a good time to see how far publishers have come in the paywall-versus-free-for-all battle.

According to a recent study by The Newspaper Association of America, 42 percent of weekly newspaper publishers are now charging for online access while 43 percent of dailies charge digital readers. The Los Angeles Times recently started a digital “membership program.” The New York Times has had good success with its “metered approach,” allowing readers to see a set number of articles each month for free before being charged. And, Gannett has announced it will move all of its newspaper websites except USA Today to a paywall system by the end of the year.

Paywalls are creating footholds globally as well. More than a dozen dailies in Europe are charging for digital access, led by Scandinavia’s Sanoma and Schibsted media groups as well as News Corp’s Times of London. There are dozens of German publishers proposing to charge by year’s end. In Asia, the influential Singapore Press Holdings is blazing the paywall trail, with other dailies there predicted to soon follow.

It’s no longer a question of “whether,” but “when.”

The public has demonstrated its willingness to spend for something as long as there’s some degree of perceived value. Now it’s up to publishers to provide that value. And, it comes down to content and delivery.

The better a news organization covers its local community, the more loyalty it gains among its customer base. Delivering content in formats suitable for the all-access world in which we live, from tablet-ready to app-based to HTML, will certainly satisfy almost any paying reader.

Even as the publishing model continues to evolve and regardless of whether publishers go with a paywall or free-for-all approach, IP geolocation can still help ensure that relevant content is automatically delivered to readers a little closer to home and that publications maximize their online marketing initiatives.

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