Politico Founder Sees $1,000 a Year Fee for Capital N.Y.

Robert Allbritton, publisher of Washington politics website Politico, plans to charge subscription fees of about $1,000 a year for a high-end version of newly acquired media and politics blog Capital New York.

Allbritton, who sold his family’s local TV stations for $985 million in July, announced the purchase of Capital yesterday, without disclosing financial terms. Capital, which will continue to run separately from Politico, plans to hire 24 editors and reporters to add to its current staff of 7.

Founded in 2010 by former New York Observer editors Josh Benson and Tom McGeveran, Capital has become a regular read among New York’s politicians and media executives. McGeveran and Benson will continue to edit the site, while Jim VandeHei, Politico’s co-founder and executive editor, has been named president and will oversee Capital’s business.

“The plan is to take what they already do and put it on steroids,” VandeHei said in an interview. “Media, City Hall, and politics and policy on the state level -- we’re not going to be spending money or time outside those three categories.”

VandeHei sees Capital charging about $99 per month or $1,000 a year for a subscription to a higher-end service. That’s far more than the $195 annual subscription to the New York Times, which started charging readers for access in 2011 and plans on producing a lower-priced product, called Need To Know.

“I anticipate the skepticism and appreciate it,” VandeHei said of the price. “If you’re producing something that has to be read by a media executive or a politician, they’re going to pay for it -- that’s the big challenge.”

Politico Model

VandeHei said Capital can learn from the business model of Politico, which has a free website as well as Politico Pro, a subscription service focused on Washington’s lobbyists and policy makers that costs over $5,000 a year.

“We have a certain style of journalism, a certain voice, a certain ability to hire the type of journalist -- whether it’s politics or policy or media -- that people will want to pay,” VandeHei said.

Capital will hire six new reporters at the state capital of Albany, as well as six more reporters on media, where the site’s focus will expand to include the business side of the industry, VandeHei said.

Coverage will include “what the Ben Sherwoods of the world are up to,” he said, referring to the president of ABC News. “And what’s happening at the big cable networks, the big websites -- and really focus on the executive leadership.”

Subscription Prices

Allbritton had wanted to crack into the New York market for a few years, according to Benson; he and McGeveran started conversations with the entrepreneur as early as 2009.

“Some of the reasons this deal was so attractive to us is Politico has built a really good, robust business, and it’s based on doing a ton of original content,” Benson said.

Given Allbritton’s resources, he could have built a New York news operation on his own, Benson said.

“He went with us because we’re from here and we’re writing for a New York readership and a New York-minded audience.”

Some of Capital’s previous investors, who helped raise $1.7 million in 2011, include journalist Merrill Brown, who now serves as director of the school of communication and media at Montclair State University; Andrew Rasiej, founder of the Personal Democracy Forum; and angel investor Adam Riggs.

“I have very big ambitions for Capital,” Allbritton said in a statement. “I believe powerfully that nonpartisan publications with an intense focus on a specific set of topics can break though quickly, editorially and financially.”

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