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Glenn Halbrooks

London's The Times Hits Brick Wall with Paywall

By August 31, 2010

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Newspapers charge subscriptions for their print editions, so why not take the same business model to the web? The Times in London is finding out the switch isn't that easy, watching its online readership evaporate immediately after erecting a paywall.

The Times' situation is not unique. A list of newspapers using paid content shows a huge difference in the subscriber bases for their print editions versus their websites. The numbers reveal the price of paid content results in a dramatic loss in web traffic.

That's not the only cost. Consider the case of Newsday, which spent millions to set up a paywall for its website. It will take a long time just to recoup that investment since the paper has only sold a few dozen subscriptions in three months.

Media experts say the trend will be toward paid content. The New York Times plans to make the switch next year.

But right now, leading newspapers taking the plunge are finding the water is burning their business. Newspapers should weigh the pros and cons a change will bring to their overall business, their corporate image and their ability to connect with readers before deciding to set off into territory where others are struggling.

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