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Media News to test concept of charging readers of its online publications

Fee would apply to 'premium' articles for non-subscribers of its newspapers

MediaNews, the company that publishes the Contra Costa Times and Tri-Valley Herald, is making post-bankruptcy plans to limit online users to as many as 25 "premium" articles monthly, after which they'll have to pay an undetermined fee unless they subscribe to a MediaNews print publication.

The report was carried in this week's San Francisco Peninsula Press Club newsletter.

According to the newsletter, MediaNews plans to test the concept at its Enterprise-Record newspaper in Chico and at the Daily Record, a newspaper it publishes in York, Pa., in the next few months. Then the pay wall might be extended to the company's 52 other daily newspapers including those in the Bay Area.

In a story published Feb. 5 in the online newsletter Bloomberg.com, MediaNews, led by Chief Executive Officer Dean Singleton, plans to adopt a plan already in place at the Financial Times and another one under consideration by the New York Times. Both of those publications see online charges as a way to generate more revenue as daily newspaper advertising sales and readership falls.

Bloomberg.com reported that MediaNews President Joseph Lodovic said, in an email, that premium content may include certain columns and investigative reporting.

"Most of our content will remain free," he told Bloomberg. "Once subscribed, the reader will have access to all premium (stories) across (the) MediaNews Group."

Media News, which publishes 54 daily newspapers in the Bay Area and other parts of the country, is filing for bankruptcy protection.

The San Francisco Press Club newsletter also pointed out that newspapers in the Bay Area that are considering putting their stories behind pay walls might consider the experience of Newsday on Long Island. According to the New York Observer, after three months, only 35 people signed up to pay $5 a week for access to all of Newsday's stories.

Newsday's Web site redesign cost $4 million. The 35 subscribers will provide $9,000 in revenue over a year's time. The paper's free Web site is losing readers and advertisers now that content is being withheld.

Meanwhile in San Francisco, the Chronicle is withholding columnists such as Matier & Ross from its free SFGate site, but making them available to e-edition subscribers. Certain stories are also being treated the same way.

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