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Here's a question most publishers would love to have an answer to: what's the secret to building a successful pay wall?
Although one might expect major publishers like the New York Times to eventually provide the answer, newspapers in Slovakia may have beat their Western counterparts to the task.
Publishing may be a tough business all around these days, but thanks to the internet, there are more publishers than ever.
Many of them won't survive, of course. And the ones that die won't just be traditional publishers that fail to adapt to the internet; there are plenty of digital publishers making potentially fatal mistakes too.
Newspapers need help anywhere they can get it, and the Audit Bureau of Circulations is trying to help. Recently, it updated the rules it uses to calculate newspaper circulation.
One of the changes: free copies given to local schools and newspaper employees are now counted.
That should help, right? Apparently, it's not that easy. Despite the Audit Bureau of Circulations' good intentions, newspaper circulation in the U.S. continues to decline.
Faced with the reality that viable businesses require revenue, more and more newspapers and magazines are erecting pay walls on their websites.
But paid content isn't a panacea, and it's far easier -- and more comfortable -- to erect a pay fence. Case in point: the New York Times, whose new pay wall features enough holes to fit a truck through.
Content from major newspapers and news wires is often popular fodder for blogs large and small. Many, if not most, major news organizations have not, however, been enthused by the (fair) use of their content by bloggers.
But The Guardian has another message for bloggers: take our content and post it on your blog, please.
The Financial Times is lucky. It's in the minority of newspapers that can legitimately claim to have found 'success' with an internet pay wall. The company's subscribers pay upwards of $180 a year to access content on the Financial Times' website, FT.com, which is behind one of the more solid pay walls around.
But that pay wall isn't impervious; it may be coming down if you're a certain type of mobile internet user in certain geographic regions. That's because, according to Business Insider, the Financial Times will soon launch an initiative with Foursquare that will give some Foursquare users who check into certain businesses in certain locations the ability to access FT.com without a paid subscription.
A number of prominent newspapers, including the New York Times, have publicly committed to setting up pay walls as they struggle to find new sources of revenue.
But according to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism "State of the News Media 2010" report, newspapers planning to erect pay walls could be in for a rude awakening.
Charging for news content online may be a tough sell, but for financial publications that have a stable of institutional subscriptions, it's a bit easier. That's one of the reasons that The Financial Times is setting optimistic predictions for the new year.
After raising print subscription rates last year, the FT grew its online subscriber base 30% and saw an increase in corporate clients. Beyond that, the paper is set to see content revenues overtake print advertising revenue for the first time this year.
The App Store is certainly not going to be a panacea for print publishers looking to reverse their fortunes, but The Guardian is proving that getting into the App Store is a worthwhile exercise as the new Guardian iPhone app has been purchased 9,000 times since launch.
At a price point of £2.39, that amounts to over £21,000 in the first 48 hours (before Apple takes its 30% cut). Good enough to give the app the top spot on the list of top UK paid apps, and the second spot on the list of top US paid news apps.
One of the interesting things about The Wall Street Journal's paywall is that it lets Google searchers view The Journal's subscription content for free. But that isn't likely to continue. Rupert Murdoch has been sounding the alarm about charging for News Corp. content. And today Google made a change to its search program that will put an end to freeloaders who use Google search as an endless free pass to WSJ.com.
The Journal takes advantage of Google's First Click Free program, giving Google searchers access to the full text of a document found through Google search results before hitting the pay wall. But now users who click on more than five articles from a publisher in a day will see a “registration page” — in efforts to get potentional subscribers to poney up for content. That should help News Corp. wring a few extra dollars out of frequent Wall Street Journal readers. Too bad that's not what Murdoch is concerned with at this point.
While other newspapers like the New York Times grapple with how to charge readers for content online, the Wall Street Journal stands out as one of the few newspapers that doesn't have to deal with such issues.
Unlike many other newspapers, the Journal didn't drink the 'content just wants to be free' kool-aid. When it seemed like advertisers had an unlimited amount of money to throw around, the Journal stuck to its guns and ironically, has managed to have its cake and eat it too. Its ad sales are healthy and the mixed model it employs has apparently proven to be the secret sauce.
In the face of defeat, America's news outlets continue to find ways to innovate. Mind you, they aren't ground-breaking innovations. But they're innovations none-the-less.