Dispatch.com charges non-subscribers
Starting today, the Columbus Dispatch’s Web site costs $4.95 per month if you don’t subscribe to the newspaper’s print edition.
E-Media Tidbits regularly discusses the failures (and very few successes) of paid online content. An important rule of thumb seems to be that few users pay when similar content is free elsewhere. For example, only 1.1 percent of salon.com readers pay for Salon Premium, and only 0.3 percent of WeatherBug’s users pay.
Since TV and radio (and their Web sites) are free, dispatch.com is going to lose online readers — and thus the ability to sell ads to a larger audience. Of course, in the current online advertising slump those page views are not worth much revenue anyway, but the Dispatch’s online strategy won’t help it in the long term if it wants to build a larger audience.
Even if some online readers are willing to fork over their $4.95, the Dispatch’s explanation and instructions are very complicated, especially compared to the Washington Post’s recent quick-and-easy implementation of free site registration. The Dispatch does seem to have its heart in the right place, though, allowing free access for public libraries and schools. It will be interesting to see how it works out for them.
Update October 1, 2002, 5:35 pm: As I was writing this, two Tidbits items reported that The Onion will add “premium” content and that El Mundo, a Spanish newspaper, will charge for print edition content.