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Regional publisher to introduce online paywalls

A leading regional publisher is to introduce paid-for access to some of its local websites from next week in an experiment that could change the face of the industry.

HoldtheFrontPage has learned that paywalls are to be introduced on a selection of Johnston Press-owned weekly newspaper websites from Monday.

Managers have told staff that JP intends to roll-out the paid-for model across the company in line with what they are calling “industry moves in this area to find a sustainable business model going forward.”

Rupert Murdoch’s News International has already made clear it intends to erect paywalls on its national titles from next spring, but JP is the first regional publisher to trial the model.

If the experiment succeeds, it could transform the regional press industry and provide it with a way of monetising online content for the first time.

One regional editor, Kevin Ward of the Worcester News, argued at last week’s Society of Editors conference that regional papers would find it easier to charge for content than their national counterparts because their content is more “niche.”

The initiative being launched next week will restrict users of selected JP sites from viewing content beyond the homepage without payment of a £5 three-month subscription – the equivalent of 40p per week.

The subscription system will be the same as that already being used by the Scotsman to view “premium content” on its website.

Staff involved in the “first wave” of the project have been told that it has been designed to inform decision-making about future roll-outs.

Among the indicators which will be closely monitored are the level of sign-ups, the impact on online advertising income and the impact on newspaper sales.

An internal memo circulated by senior managers in one JP division that has been seen by HTFP stated: “Customers are used to paying for content in-paper and we are simply transferring this thinking online.”

Johnston Press has declined to comment publicly on the plan.

Mr Ward this afternoon welcomed the move in a Twitter status update.

“News that JP to trial paywalls on some of its local newspaper websites is good. It’s the right way forward. As I may have said before,” he commented.


Chris Youett, (25/11/2009 10:10:42)
What took JP management so long to realise that people would pay at least the market rate for quality online services? IBM and Microsoft told the media employers that years ago – and they would never make any money from almost giving away new media services. It is also good news for JP’s grossly under-paid hacks. JP now has now excuse not to give all its journalists immediate rises of between £5,000 and £20,000 a year – because they are all worth it.

SebastianFaults (25/11/2009 10:16:15)
No-one in their right minds would pay for the content of our two local JP papers. Of the four headline stories on the evening’s website this morning, one is a three-par on a concert due to take place last night (but billed ‘tonight’) cancelled due to flu and one of the weekly’s headliners is a pre-piece for a football match which took place last Sunday. I don’t blame the hard-pressed staff for failing to update, but JP for failing to resource properly. JP management is in cloud cuckoo land if it thinks anyone will pay for this.

Richard Mason (25/11/2009 10:18:16)
This is going to fail in areas covered by two publishers. Readers are always going to choose the free option, so, for instance, in Sunderland, if the Echo is going to charge, people will just head for the Journal’s site instead.
For monetising content to really work, all publishers need to be onside and working from the same platform. The single platform model is the only way this is going to work.
I admire JP for doing this, but they are jumping the gun.

Johhny Boy (25/11/2009 10:21:39)
I’d be interested to see how this turns out as I think this whole issue ignore the fact people are so used to getting stuff for free online that they won’t pay even a nominal fee for services.And without being disrespectful to the very industry I work for, what is ‘premium content’? Naked women? Celeb gossip? Or traditional, bread and butter regional news? I don’t want to sound overly negative, but on a daily basis there’s probably a story or two or a video or two, that’s all and at the maximum, that may be classed as ‘premium’ content. Sorry, you ain’t convinving me people will pay for this.

Carole (25/11/2009 10:25:57)
Naked women?? Come, come Johhny.
Naked men please!!

Dave (25/11/2009 10:34:55)
“What took JP management so long to realise that people would pay at least the market rate for quality online services?”
Do JP produce quality online services? No. This pilot will fail.

Johnston Sub (25/11/2009 10:35:48)
There are several issues here.
Firstly, the content has to be worth paying for. Stories need to be updated on a regular basis and newspaper copy needs to be re-subbed and sometimes re-written for the web. So it requires investment in the internet departments in order to make it work.
Secondly, I do agree with the “why should people get their news free” view. After all, those who buy the paper have to pay for their news. Therefore, it’s fair to charge those who don’t buy the paper. But, on the other hand, is it fair to charge those who do buy the paper twice? While it would be possible to offer subscribers and those who have the paper delivered free passwords, what’s to stop others getting hold of these, and what of the people who buy their copy from the local shop?
It certainly is a difficult one.

Peter Garner (25/11/2009 10:54:43)
I just hope they get the payment system right first time – there’s nothing guaranteed to drive punters away quicker than payment problems..

Dan Depan (25/11/2009 10:57:50)
So finally the penny drops – charge people to read stories, use cash raised to pay the reporters – revolutionary!

Ex Worker (25/11/2009 11:37:33)
“charge people to read stories, use cash raised to pay the reporters”
Charge people to read stories, use cash raised to maintain the dividends to shareholders.
Then management will blame everyone else when this bright idea fails and there’s another round of redundancies due to ‘difficult market conditions’ which management helped create.

Retiree (25/11/2009 11:52:43)
Seem to remember the Coventry Evening Telegraph came up with a subscription service a few years ago so people could “read the paper” on line. Never heard much more about it, so I guess it went down as a failed experiment.

JP Worker (25/11/2009 12:19:37)
JP has this conception that the public are fools. According to them, readers haven’t the foggiest clue staff have been slashed and resources scrapped. What planet do the bosses live on?
Unless they invest, the “quality of the product” (copyright: JP/David Brent-speak) wil continue to diminish. So why would anyone in their right mind pay for that? Readers are apparently gullible fools – or at least they are seen that way by the decision-makers.

matt waring (25/11/2009 12:28:34)
Well unless they can compete with the excellant services I already pay for via my TV Licence, BBC news, then they have no hope of making this work.

Mr_Osato (25/11/2009 12:43:25)
Yay, common sense at last. Valid points made by several about how JP must up its game online to justify charging (really, if you’re paying the equivalent of newspaper prices, you must offer everything that’s in the newspaper) but surely this is going to be more lucrative than going head to head with Google and Facebook for a share of the huge but thinly-spread online advertising market. And a dedicated subscriber-based means far more to the butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers who traditionally advertise with a local newspaper than figures of ‘200,000
page impressions’ which includes the likes of Peruvian alpaco farmers tempted by a google-baiting headline about John Terry. And don’t sack the subs, Johnston, that would be a massive backward step – people will only pay for a quality product.

Another Northcliffe Old-Hand (25/11/2009 12:44:49)
The only way that this has any chance of succeeding is if publishers get together and aggregate their content on one platform. On its own local news is not compulsive enough for the vast majority of online consumers. Content needs to be bundled into relevant packages. Consumers need to be able to pick and mix their choice of national news, local news, lifestyle interests etc. and pay a single subscription according to their choice of package. The revenue should then be allocated to each content provider on the basis of access. Cable and satellite would not have the market penetration it does today if consumers were forced to take out a separate subscription for each channel. Unfortunately though the newspaper industry has proved time after time that it is incapable of joint venturing in a commercially productive way.

Thingy (25/11/2009 12:46:16)
Look at it this way in its simplest terms: My local daily JP newspaper has a specific geographic region and it’s usually very good for news in the patch. I have (read: had) the paper’s website on RSS feed, but every headline that interests me links to stories from WAY outside the area. We’re talking 50+ miles away in some cases, as well as from the city 10 miles away which has its own daily JP paper and website. I never go on the site now because there’s just nothing to interest me. To charge for that would be an insult and I suspect many others would feel the same.
I also agree that any revenue raised from this ambitious-but-blinkered would go straight to the shareholders rather than to those of us who need it most.

Ex Factor (25/11/2009 13:03:48)
But will any of this money trickle down to the editorial newsrooms? Doubtful. JP and the rest see web provision as “zero cost” – ie, no extra staff, barely there equipment, no overtime for evening and weekend updating of websites.
Great idea, yes, but it will only work if they reinvest some of the money into the editorial departments they’ve been increasingly starving over the years.

I M A CELEB (25/11/2009 13:26:32)
Are JP mad. You only have to look at the success of Free print products like The Metro and Shortlist to see how the public like free things. People will not pay for online content. They should improve their sites get more hits and inturn more ads.

Bean Counter (25/11/2009 13:54:10)
When will you journo’s realise that every day for decades fewer people are prepared to pay for your endeavour. The fact that JP are now trying to get people to pay in what is perceived to be a free platform is comical.
Unfortunately the written word in a tactile format no longer cuts the mustard, get over it and stop wallowing in your own self-importance.

Subbo (25/11/2009 14:23:36)
As a keen angler, I might pay for a weekly section on ultra local angling, something not produced by websites such as Fishing Magic etc, but I wouldn’t pay for bog standard press releases of the type now filling up most local papers. No-one would.

Darren (25/11/2009 15:43:10)
I’ve been on my local JP site about three times in the last year.
If they introduce a paywall I’ll just find out whats going off in my town from people and groups on facebook, i’m guessing one of my contacts will buy the paper or they’ll just find out the latest news in the pub.
that or people will twitter the latest news.

Ex Factor (25/11/2009 15:43:48)
@Bean Counter – but those that do pay are handing over their cash because you and your sales ilk do such a wonderful job, right? That’s what they’re paying for? You poor, poor deluded corridor walker.
The vast majority of people who read newspapers or newspaper websites do so because they’re interested in the news content, not the crap advertising you lot decreasingly manage to conjure up.
If sales people can’t do their jobs properly – and I include the Bean Counters that they become – then maybe THEY should be looking towards a new business model.
We have no problem attracting readers at all, while the unsackable sales teams get ever more lamentable at their jobs.
I recognise there’s dwindling print readership, but that’s only because more and more people are indeed reading online. So our readers haven’t gone anywhere, they’re just on a different platform.
It was when bean counters took over our industry, aided and abetted by journalists who suddenly saw pound signs when they were over-promoted to be lickspittle lapdogs to the board, that it all started to go horribly wrong.
I repeat – the title I work for, and indeed the group – has no problem whatsoever with getting readers. It’s the sales team who struggle and it’s up to them and their calculator-waving brethren to sort it out. If that means a smaller, more loyal audience paying a small fee, so be it. But reinvest that money into making the websites – and the papers – sing again.

SP (25/11/2009 16:53:58)
This may work if all regional publishers jump on the bandwagon – however it would be certain failure if the BBC are ever allowed to ressurect their hyper-local website plans.