Thursday, September 12, 2013

Tampa Bay Times to install paywall, but will it stick?

Posted by on Thu, Sep 12, 2013 at 11:57 AM

TampaBayTimes.jpg
There's no question that readers will pay for journalism they value on the Internet. That's been proven with some of the nation's finest newspapers, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times over the years. Earlier this year, the Washington Post joined that distinguished list.

But the results have been sketchy with other newspapers, such as the San Francisco Chronicle, which gave up its paywall after less than six months earlier this year, though the paper still continues to allow digital subscriptions.

Now comes word from Tampa Bay Times publisher Paul Tash that the paper's website will install a meter, meaning that after reading a set amount of stories for free on tampabay.com, users will need to register on the site for a pay plan to get the unfettered access they've enjoyed since the paper went online in the mid-1990s.

"Some parts of tampabay.com will continue to offer unlimited access," Tash writes on the Times website this morning. "The meter does not count visits to the home page or to PolitiFact.com, our service that measures the truth of what politicians are saying. Readers also can tap into Things To Do, or the sections that advertise cars, homes and jobs, as much as they like."

Tash does not say how much site usage will now cost tampabay.com readers, other than to say that "our best customers get the best price, with discounts for subscribers to our print edition."

In fact it will cost subscribers $6 a month. That's unlike the situation for home subscribers for the NY Times, who don't pay anything (even if you just get the paper three days a week). For non-subscribers, it will be $12 a month.

You might ask, what took so long? Four years ago, the question of paid content came up at a panel I was on with Times Political Editor Adam Smith at a Florida Democratic party event in Orlando. Smith speculated that he might see it coming for certain sections, like the Bay Buzz. But nothing has happened until now.

It's been axiomatic to say that newspapers blew it by offering content free of charge starting in the late 1990s. An estimated 300-plus newspapers now charge for content. In some cases, it may be too late.

But certainly not for the Times, which still maintains strong circulation numbers. But with their readership free of paying at all for web stories over the years, no doubt there'll be some online attrition.

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