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Los Angeles Times joins the crowd, erects pay wall for the news online

The Los Angeles Times is offering a wide range of online subscriptions. But will pay walls save ailing print newspapers or just guarantee their ultimate demise?

By Staff writer / March 5, 2012

Pay wall: The New York Times implemented a pay wall in 2011. Now the Los Angeles Times will start charging users to read content.

Mark Lennihan/AP/File

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Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Times on Monday joined a growing number of newspapers who are asking consumers to pay for what they have been getting for free: content on the website.

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Southern California newshounds who want more than their 15 free online articles per month can get a one-month trial for the discounted price of 99 cents. After that, they can choose from a menu of options, including a digital-only plan for $3.99 per week and, interestingly, one for only $1.99 a week that includes all digital access plus the Sunday print paper.

Two years ago, The Wall Street Journal was the only major newspaper with a digital pay model. A year ago, The New York Times began charging online customers for access if they read more than 20 articles a month.

Momentum is building behind this source of revenue for ailing newspapers. Other individual newspapers such as The Boston Globe have jumped on the bandwagon, and the Gannett newspaper chain has just announced that it will put some 80 of its community newspapers around the country behind a pay wall by the end of 2012.

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There are enormous financial pressures driving this experiment with pay walls, points out Mark Jurkowitz, from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. A study released Monday of some 13 companies that own 330 print dailies shows that for every seven dollars lost in print advertising, the newspapers are only picking up a dollar in digital revenues.

But, he points out, it is far too early to assess the potential of the pay wall model to change this dire downward trend line.

“This is a nascent industry,” he says, “and while more and more papers are experimenting with different kinds of pay walls, we think it’s far too early to develop any meaningful data on their effectiveness.”

Some analysts question whether print journalism has a future with the upcoming generation of social-media-savvy users, accustomed to getting their digital news for free.

“The horse has left the barn on this one,” says Fordham University Professor Paul Levinson, author of “New New Media.” The attempt to create premium pricing on the Internet will only hurt newspapers further, he says, because it flies in the face of the underlying mechanism of the Digital Age.
 
“It inhibits connectivity,” he says, meaning that it slows down a user’s ability both to find an article in a search and then to share it with other people. Users who locate a premium-priced article through an online search would be asked to pay before accessing it. It is also more difficult to quickly share such content via Twitter or Facebook or any other social media.

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