Region's Largest Daily Newspapers Try Paid Content Websites

The Houston Chronicle started on Nov. 19 and the Daily News followed suit two weeks later. Both newspapers now charge online readers for their articles. The difference between both concepts is that the Chronicle launched an entirely new website — HoustonChronicle.com, which functions as an addition to its free website, Chron.com.

The Galveston Daily News shifted entirely from free to paid content. Patrick Graham, publisher of the Daily News, says he’s aware that some readers may be turned off by the change — page view numbers have dropped since online readers have to pay for Daily News articles. But he says it just made sense.

“When you’re giving such a significant amount of your information out for free, you’re not giving readers much of an incentive to subscribe, so while our readership might have been maintaining, our paid circulation was in decline.”

Since the change, the print edition has actually seen a more than 2 percent increase in subscriptions, Graham says.

Andrea Mooney is the director of digital content at the Chronicle. She says while the free website covers mostly breaking news, the paid content website has more in-depth articles and analysis — similar to the print paper.

“We have so much traffic to chron.com, I think there was a concern that a loss in traffic would not be conceived well in the marketplace, and so by creating two different websites that have two different goals for the audience I believe is what Hearst thought was a better solution.”

Hearst is the media company that owns the Chronicle. Two other Hearst newspapers — the San Antonio Express-News and the San Francisco Chronicle — will soon implement a similar product.

This seems to be part of a nationwide trend. According to Newspapers and Technology magazine, more than 350 newspapers in north America now have some kind of paywall for their websites.

“I don’t think it will work, frankly.”

Dr. Fred Schiff is a journalism professor at the University of Houston. He is skeptical of the success of the new approach.

“At the local level you got the newspapers basically vying with the local television to provide news, so if, again, one station out of the four or six in the, say, given metro area were willing to provide it for free, and the newspaper in town decides to charge, they probably won’t get very many subscribers.”  

Under current media rules, which prevent news monopolies in cities, Schiff says his guess would be that the Galveston County Daily News will do better with a paid model than the Houston Chronicle, because the Daily News has less competition.

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