Advertiser soon charging for online content

by Leslie Turk

Daily paper's parent company, the largest newspaper publisher in the country, announced Wednesday that it will build paywalls around all of its community papers except for flagship USA Today.

So much for free online content.

The largest newspaper publisher in the country, which owns The Daily Advertiser and Daily World in Opelousas, is moving to a sophisticated paywall system it projects will increase annual subscription revenues by 25 percent and bring an extra $100 million to its bottom line. The company confirmed the paywall plan Wednesday.

The content initiative is not new, as newspapers across the country have been setting up paywalls over the past couple of years with mixed success. Gannett is planning to switch over all of its 80 community newspapers to a paid model by the end of the year. Reports the website

But Gannett's initiative is the biggest across-the-board implementation to date. (Incidentally, Gannett prefers "new content subscription model" to "paywall"; the company is right to plump for a new, positive term-but I'm not sure this chunky phrase is a winner). ...

Gannett will also taper its pricing and paywall strategy to each individual market-meaning that issues of pricing, bundling and meters will be determined on a paper-per-paper basis. This seems like a smart strategy-not only will the company have a chance to implement an optimal formula for each paper, but it will also acquire a wealth of price and marketing data. ...

There is also the question of advertising. While the company's $100 million prediction is based on new subscription revenues alone, this amount could be offset if paywalls cause online ad revenues to significantly decline.

Read more here.

The model is similar to the metered system adopted by The New York Times a year ago, in which online readers are able to view a limited number of pages for free each month, Forbes noted. That quota will be between five and 15 articles, depending on the paper, Gannett's community newspaper chief said. According to Forbes, six Gannett papers already have a digital pay regimen in place.

Only USA Today will remain free, at least for now. Forbes reported that Gannett's CEO explained that decision as a matter of priorities, noting that USA Today is in the midst of overhauling its website to create a user experience more similar to that of an iPad app. And besides, USA Today has another major issue on its hands. Read Forbes' "How USA Today Slips $82 Million a Year Onto Your Hotel" here.

Confirmation of the widespread paywalls, which have long been expected, came during an investor day conference in Manhattan.

In other Daily Advertiser news, the paper announced Monday that its president and publisher, Ali Zoibi, is moving out of state to spend more time with his ailing mother. Richard Roesgen, a newspaper executive from Fond du Lac, Wis., is replacing Zoibi. Roesgen, 50, will take over The Advertiser and Daily World March 19.

Word of Zoibi's departure came three days after the paper's executive editor, Brian Tolley, announced that he is moving to another Gannett paper, The Clarion-Ledger, in Jackson, Miss. Tolley will reunite with former Daily Advertiser President and Publisher Leslie Hurst, again serving as her executive editor. There has been no mention of Tolley's replacement.