Fitch: Free Online Model Clicks For Newspapers

A day after The New York Times announced it would no longer require readers to pay for its TimesSelect service, Fitch Ratings praised the general strategy.

The company said that online ad revenue will help big brand names weather the worst of the ongoing secular downturn. In the short term, it forecast increases in online readership for The New York Times and seemed to encourage a similar strategy at Dow Jones.

At a Goldman Sachs conference on Tuesday, Rupert Murdoch, the new owner of Dow Jones, said he is considering dropping the subscription requirement for access to the Web site of The Wall Street Journal, its flagship publication, saying it "looks like the way we're going."

Overall, Fitch said that big companies like the Times, Dow Jones, The Washington Post and Gannett will "be more resilient to secular threats, given that they typically come with very engaged and committed readerships that will more likely transfer to new distribution outlets."

Far from undermining newspaper print ad revenues, as many fear, Fitch pointed to a potential bright side of online publication--noting that "online platforms provide the opportunity to increase the shelf life of newspaper content and allow companies to potentially sell more advertising against a given article than is possible in print." The New York Times, for example, is opening its archives to readers for free, massively expanding its reservoir of content for ad serving.

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