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New Newsweek Taps Slovakian Paywall Gurus for an Ambitious Relaunch

Newsweek’s long and winding quest for survival in the digital age has now, at long last, after several ignominious stops along the way, delivered the storied American newsweekly into the only logical outcome: turning to a team of Slovakian paywall experts to help keep the battered brand afloat. It actually makes more sense than you think.

IBT Media, the New York-based publisher that last year purchased the malnourished magazine from Barry Diller’s IAC, will once again begin publishing a print magazine in addition to its Web offerings. The company made clear on Wednesday that access won’t be cheap: Newsweek will charge a hefty $149.99 a year for the entirety of its content on the Web, mobile devices, and in print. Or $39.99 for a digital-only subscription.

To manage these and other subscription options, IBT has turned to Piano Media, a Slovakian tech company that, in recent years, has become something of a pioneer in Europe at designing distinctive systems to charge readers for consuming news online.

Two-and-a-half years ago, we first reported on Piano Media’s rollout of what we then dubbed the Great Paywall of Slovakia—a unique, nationwide experiment in collecting fees from digital news consumers. Since then the company has expanded its metered paywall systems to publications in countries throughout Europe, including Germany, Poland, Spain, and Slovenia. Newsweek is Piano Media’s first client in the U.S.

The timing of Piano Media’s stateside arrival makes a certain kind of sense. As we noted last year, 2014 is shaping up to be the Year of the Paywall for a range of U.S. news publishers hoping to replace rapidly declining ad dollars with a bump in digital subscription revenue. It was only a matter of time before Piano Media’s experimental approach to paywalls, tested in the relatively calm waters of the Slovakian news media, would entice a U.S. publisher looking for a novel way to survive the roiling hell-broth that is the modern magazine market.

Piano Media executives will have their hands full trying to implement Newsweek’s new pricing strategy. “There may be room for the new model—and kudos to the newest Newsweek owners for testing it,” writes industry analyst Ken Doctor. “If it does work, experience tells us it’s likely to take several years to prove out, and that may test the financial limits of this bootstrapping effort.”

Gillette is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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