Paying for online news and commentary?

My students at Armstrong routinely swear they’d never pay for news online, but the trend toward paywalls and meters continues.

The New York Times allows readers a set number of free articles per month. So does, as of a couple months ago, the Savannah Morning News, which seems to be having great success with its metered service.

My hometown newspaper The State Journal in Frankfort, Kentucky has put a lot of its content behind a paywall for years. Of course, so has the Wall Street Journal.

From Mashable’s Newspaper Websites With Paywalls Doubled in a Year:

Over the past couple of years, major news sites have been jumping on the paywall bandwagon, with more than 300 newspapers now charging for online content. That number has doubled in the past year, and continues its upward momentum.

Given the dire straits of local newspapers, their parent companies needed to supplant their dwindling income with revenue directly from readers. In the old days when paper dominated, newspapers could earn tidy sums selling advertising, particularly classified ads. That business is a mere shadow of its former self today, thanks to online ad juggernauts such as Craigslist and dwindling subscribers to print editions of newspapers.

Paywalls and meters can cut deeply into web traffic and therefore hurt ad revenue. But many news sites are finding that the risks are worth it.

I’ve never been a regular reader of Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish, but now he’s going independent — and ad-free — and looking for paying members after the expiration of his contract with The Daily Beast. He announced the news today on Twitter:

In New Year, New Dish, New Media, Sullivan recounts some of his blogging history:

I did it on my own for nothing but two pledge drives for six years. Then I tried partnering with bigger media institutions for the following six – Time, the Atlantic, and the Daily Beast. The Beast in particular gave us the resources and support to take the Dish to a new level of richness, breadth and depth: adding one more staffer and two paid interns, helping us with video, giving us a supportive space to breathe and grow, as we have. We are intensely grateful to them, especially Tina Brown and Barry Diller, who became great partners in this evolving enterprise. The Dish now is beyond what I allowed myself to imagine twelve years ago.

And so, as we contemplated the end of our contract with the Beast at the end of 2012, we faced a decision. As usual, we sought your input and the blogosphere’s – hence the not-terribly subtle thread that explored whether online readers will ever pay for content, and how. The answer is: no one really knows.

The Dish has a staff of seven, according to that post, so it’s hardly just Sullivan the lone blogger these days.

The plan:

So for the next month, we’re going to offer you advance membership of the Dish for $19.99 a year, which translates to $1.67 a month, which is around a nickel a day. The meter won’t start until February, and the price won’t change then, but by pre-subscribing, you give us a crucial financial bridge to get to independence – and you’ll never notice a thing when the transition happens.

To be honest, we didn’t know where to set the price – we have almost no precedents for where we want to go – but $19.99 seemed the lowest compatible with a serious venture. We wanted to make this as affordable as possible, while maximizing revenues. […]

Click here for more about Tinypass, the company with which Sullivan is working.

Will gregarious online readers get used to the idea of tiny monthly payments to some of the sites they value most highly?

I’m guessing that Sullivan has forged a big enough name and readership that this will work for him. I’m just not sure how long the coattails will be for smaller sites and blogs.

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