A renaissance of pricing model initiatives

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We appear to be in the thick of a renaissance of pricing model initiatives. The free online content versus the paywall debate continues, as ever, apace. But for some time now the pendulum has been swinging in the direction of some of sort of payment being asked of users who access more than a set amount of articles online. We may have now reached some sort of tipping point.

Quite a few publishers are experimenting, or will experiment as we move into spring, with multiple tiers of access. Google One Pass, which is right now limited to online newspaper and magazine, is gaining ground as a necessary counterbalance against Apple's controversial subscription service. And Politico Pro was also recently announced.

Further, Sharon Waxman reports in The Cut that Variety is stepping out from behind the paywall -- one that has been questionably effective -- next Tuesday to unveil a free breaking news blog. "The move to launch a blog, to be mainly written by the trade’s new film editor Josh Dickey with film reporters Justin Kroll and Jeff Sneider, suggests that the trade recognizes it needs to offer some free content to stay relevant," writes Waxman. Three months after their paywall was erected, Variety's traffic had fallen by more than 40%.

The Telegraph is also looking at a softer gate approach aimed at frequent consumers of their content. According to ABCe, Telegraph.co.uk had 31 million registered users in December. "While (Telegraph Media Group) insists that no final decision has been made, sources claim that executives believe the hybrid model is the best way to offset falling sales of the company's printed newspaper editions," reports the UK based Marketing Magazine. It all sounds positively FT-ish.

The Financial Times is, of course, the best-in-show. FT has 206,892 paying digital subscribers, up 71% year on year, according to a January blog post. But financial news is a little different from other types of content in that it is vital, thus paying for itself. Subscription-based Times Select -- which was heavy on Op Ed columnists -- infamously, did not get things right out of the gate, but will be giving it another honest try in the coming weeks with their "softer gate (modeled, incidentally, on the FT approach)." The Gray Lady's second iteration at a paid content model is rumored to be $20 for a digital bundle including app access and the Times online. The Times has built enough trust over its storied 160 year history to recover from Times Select.

Incidentally, The Atlantic's John Hendel, in writing about the Times' upcoming paywall, brings up the two year old Kachingle. Kachingle is all about voluntary micropayments. Kachingle, firmly in the anti-paywall camp, was particularly aggressive in their "Stop the Paywall" campaign and found themselves in a lawsuit -- recently settled -- against the New York Times.

Finally, while the present frenzy of experimentation is exciting, publishers should ask themselves some serious questions before establishing anything that carries even the faintest whiff of an out of whack print/online pricing plan. Newsday's epic paywall fail of 2010, which garnered only 35 customers in its first three months, should serve as the ultimate cautionary tale on how not to do a paywall.

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