The country’s largest newspaper publisher plans to create online paywalls for scores of local community newspapers nationwide, according to Gannett Co. community publishing president Bob Dickey.
As with other newspapers' online paywalls, Dickey said that visitors to Gannett’s 82 community newspaper Web sites will be able to see a certain amount of content for free -- probably in the range of five to 15 articles. After that, they will be asked to buy a monthly or yearly subscription for the digital product.
Nine Gannett properties are already charging for online content. Six erected their paywalls in January, including The Poughkeepsie Journal in New York, the St. Cloud Times in MN, the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, SD, the News Journal in Wilmington, DE, Florida Today in Melbourne, FL, and the Journal and Courier in Lafayette, IN. Previously, the Tallahassee Democrat, the Greenville News in SC, and the Spectrum in St. George, UT all began charging for online access in 2010.
Dickey didn’t say how much Gannett’s other local community papers might charge. However, he did say he expects it to increase subscription revenues by 25%, which could result in $100 million in additional earnings annually.
Currently, Gannett has no plans to charge for online access to its national flagship newspaper, USA Today.
Gannett is clearly working to put its community newspaper division on a firmer financial footing. Earlier this month, it offered early retirement to 665 community publishing employees, in what could be the largest reduction in the company’s workforce in several years. While Dickey emphasized that the offer is entirely voluntary, he hinted that the company may be forced to implement more drastic cost-cutting strategies, implicitly including layoffs.
Gannett Co.’s total revenues have declined from $8.03 billion in 2006 to $5.24 billion in 2011 -- a 35% loss in five years. This is due mostly to a steep decline in publishing advertising revenue, from $5.37 billion to $2.51 billion over the same period -- a 53.3% decline. Total newspaper circulation revenues declined 17.2% from $1.28 billion in 2006 to $1.06 billion in 2011.