SI.com Revamps, Gives Subscribers Free Extras

As of today, Sports Illustrated magazine is making more articles available online to paid subscribers, as part of a redesign of the SI.com Web site.

The revamped site will offer print subscribers access to all stories from the magazine's regional and specialty editions, such as "Sports Illustrated Golf Plus" and "Sports Illustrated Adventure," said SI.com Managing Editor Paul Fichtenbaum. In the past, online access to those articles was usually restricted to subscribers of the niche editions. SI.com's premium section for subscribers, which changed its name from "SI Exclusive" to "SI Extra," now also includes additional photo galleries and columns, said Fichtenbaum.

The goal, said Fichtenbaum, is to convince more of the magazine's print subscribers to go online. "This is pretty much an area where subscribers can run wild and see everything in one place," he said. The SI.com site also posts free content--more than 150 original stories a week--that Fichtenbaum hopes will also give print subscribers more incentive to visit the site. "We have 3.2 million print subscribers who like the magazine," Fichtenbaum said. "We'd like to convert all of them."

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The move to give away more articles comes at a time when publishers continue to wrestle with the question of how much to make available at no charge.

On the one hand, a resurgence in online advertising seems to have created momentum for more free, ad-supported content, according to an eMarketer report released earlier this week. "Now that online advertising is booming again, there is a lot less talk about free vs. fee," stated the report.

The renewed online advertising market appears to have led even some long-standing pay sites to reconsider their approach. For instance, Dow Jones, parent of the Wall Street Journal--which has long charged online readers--is moving toward making more content available at no cost. Last year, when Dow Jones acquired MarketWatch, the company stated that it didn't intend to charge for the MarketWatch articles that viewers currently read for free.

But not all publishers appear to be convinced. Business Week recently reported that executives at The New York Times, heralded as the poster child for no-fee ad-supported content, are currently debating whether to start charging Web readers. After the article appeared, the Times denied plans to become a subscription site.

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