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Chicago Tribune to launch unique paywall model tomorrow

The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe and Baltimore Sun may all have lowered paywalls in response to Superstorm Sandy, which has swept across the East Coast wreaking havoc and destruction, but soon enough those walls will rise again. When that happens, the Chicago Tribune will also be sporting a paywall, albeit shiny and new.

On Nov. 1, the Tribune will implement an online subscription model with premium content for paying readers. According to ChicagoBusiness.com, unregistered users will have access to breaking news, sports entertainment and weather. Meanwhile, for $14.99 a month, subscribers will be privy to content including investigative reporting, as well as additional content from such prestigious publications like the Economist, Forbes and Variety. Seven-day print subscribers will also have access to online content, while readers who opt to get the paper on fewer days can add an online subscription for $2 a month.

Offering content from other news organizations is a unique model, one that Bill Adee, vice president of digital at the Tribune, is hoping will prove valuable to subscribers. “They are a good fit in terms of brand and topics,” he said in an email interview. “We were looking for news sources that had some level of access restrictions themselves and ones that we thought would strengthen key areas: business and international affairs.” Adee noted the Tribune may be adding other news sources in the future as well.

Since June, the Chicago Tribune reported that the newspaper has registered approximately 230,000 digital users. “It is win-win for us and the other publications. Our digital subscribers get a wider selection of stories that they might not get otherwise; the other publications get to monetize their content through a licensing fee while keeping a firm control on access to it,” said Adee.

Although all newspapers aren’t necessarily taking the innovative steps the Tribune has with its paywall, charging for online access is definitely in vogue right now. Gannett announced earlier this year that it would switch all 80 of its newspapers over to a paid model by the end of the year, excluding USA Today. McClatchy said it would implement metered paywalls in five markets this fall and add paid models to the rest of its papers toward the end of the year. In addition, the Los Angeles Times, Arizona Republic, Leader-Telegram, Indianapolis Star, Columbus Dispatch, Maine Times Record, Arlington Heights Daily Herald and Crain’s Chicago Business all launched paywalls in the past year. The latest newspaper to also announce its plans to erect a paywall is Canada’s Globe and Mail. It’s slated to launch in early 2013. According to Mashable, more than 20 percent of U.S. newspapers now have some sort of subscription package in place for their online components, and that’s twice the number from a year ago.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal recently reported that investors are showing an increased interest in newspapers as a result of paywalls, with newspaper stock up 50 to 80 percent in the last year. Despite controversy surrounding the paywall concept several years ago, online subscriptions are steadily becoming a part of the newspaper model. Although the metered model has become something of a standard, the Chicago Tribune may set a new precedent depending on how well it fares. “We hope to learn a lot. For instance, we need more than just current users of our site to find value in this model. We need to attract new users with it,” said Adee.

–Katrina M. Mendolera

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