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Local Newspapers Begin Charging for Online Content

Posted April 10, 2012, 06:38 PM HST Updated April 11, 2012, 12:06 PM HST
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This is the pop-up window that visitors to West Hawaii Today's website see when its paywall comes into play.

The two daily newspapers on the Big Island have begun charging for some of their online content.

The paywall for both the Hawaii Tribune-Herald and West Hawaii Today went up earlier this month.

The paywall process is controlled through a third-party vendor, Press+.

According to a media release from Press+, the publications are using a “metered” model that allows “casual” readers to visit for free but requires “the most engaged readers” to pay for content.

In the case of viewers visiting West Hawaii Today’s website, readers are eventually presented with a pop-up window telling them that they have viewed the “30-day allowance of 10 free articles.” It is unclear how the 30-day period is calculated.

Viewers are then invited to purchase a subscription of “full access” – apparently home delivery and the newspaper’s online edition – for $11.95 a month or $119.50 a year.

However, the newspaper has a conflicting list of pricing.

According to information on a section entitled “A New Chapter” linked from the newspaper’s main web page, that full access costs $12.95 per month, an online-only subscription that includes the “e-edition” costs $11.95 monthly and just the e-edition is $5.95 a month.

According to the newspaper’s description of its “All-Digital Access,” some features remain free for all readers including Associated Press wire content, but that was not the case today as the paywall prevented viewing of wire articles.

The paywall at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald’s website offers home delivery and “digital access” for $12.50 a month or $150 per year. An online subscription is $7.95 per month and $84 per year. It does not specify how many or what type of articles or features can be read for free.

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Both the Hawaii Tribune-Herald and West Hawaii Today are owned by Las Vegas, Nev.-based Stephens Media Group.

When it comes to the national press, newspaper analysts are mixed on the subject of paywalls.

The Los Angeles Times last month joined the New York Times, the Dallas Morning News and others in erecting a paywall. Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper publisher, announced in February that by the end of the year it would use paywalls at all its newspapers except USA Today.

This was the second such approach for the New York Times, which tried charging for premium content in 2005 but gave that up two years later, only to try the metered method in March 2011. The newspaper this month changed its number of free articles per calendar month from 20 to 10.

Press+ said earlier this month that the publications it serves — which have grown in number to 323 from 24 a year ago — typically offer from five to 15 free articles per month and charge between $5 to $10 a month for additional viewing.

Ken Doctor, a senior analyst at the publishing advisory firm Outsell, Inc., recently told the Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch that he expected that one-fifth of the nation’s daily newspapers would have metered paywalls by the end of the year.

But Jonathan Berr of InvestorPlace notes that it can be difficult to get people to pay for what they’re accustomed to receiving for free.

And according to Berr, newspapers’ growing digital business is still too small to overcome the trend of declining print advertising.

Berr said The New York Times, which had 406,000 digital subscribers at the end of 2011, reported a 5.3% increase in digital advertising revenues in the fourth quarter but a 7.8% drop in print ad revenues for the same period.

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