Washington Post to Start Charging Online Readers by Mid-2013

Washington Post Co. plans to adopt a digital-subscription model at its flagship newspaper this year, following the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal in erecting a so-called paywall around online content.

The new approach will require readers to purchase a subscription after they view 20 articles or multimedia features a month, the Washington-based company said today in a statement. Home-delivery subscribers will continue to have free access after the program begins this summer. The Washington Post is still determining pricing.

More media organizations are adopting paywalls to compensate for declining print advertising, which once served as the industry’s lifeblood. The New York Times, for example, now makes more money from readers than advertisers, and its digital-subscription program, started almost two years ago, has attracted more than 640,000 paying subscribers.

For Washington Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth, the move represents a reversal in thinking. She said as recently as last November that a paywall wasn’t right for the newspaper.

“We have looked at it and done the analysis over the past four or five years, and every time we looked at it, we didn’t think it made sense for us,” Weymouth said in an interview at the time. “We’re not a believer in following the crowd.”

‘High Cost’

She sounded a different note in today’s announcement, saying, “News consumers are savvy; they understand the high cost of a top quality newsgathering operation and the importance of maintaining the kind of in-depth reporting for which the Post is known.”

The Washington Post’s weekday circulation fell 8.9 percent from a year earlier to 462,228 during the six-month period ended Sept. 30, while the Sunday edition dropped 20 percent to 674,751, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.

Shares of the company, which also owns magazines, television stations and the Kaplan education business, fell less than 1 percent to $443.44 at the close in New York. The shares have risen 21 percent this year.

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