Update: Journalism Online draws a crowd

A few weeks ago, I told you about Journalism Online, an e-commerce startup whose mission is to help newspaper companies and other content producers find the best ways to charge for their digital content. Steve Brill and Gordon Crovitz, two of Journalism Online's co-founders, told me they were getting more interest from publishers than they had time to handle.

Now here's the proof: The venture just announced that it has deals with affiliates representing more than 500 newspapers, which in turn account for more than 90 million online readers. Journalism Online still isn't saying exactly who those affiliates are (although Brill and Crovitz told me they'd be ready to name them by the end of July); a spokeswoman says the company is bound by non-disclosure agreements and will allow the affiliates to make their own announcements.
Here's the full release from J.O.:

Journalism Online Passes 500 Newspapers, 90 Million Online Visitors in Initial Publisher Agreements

Targets $50-100 Annual Payments for 10% of Each Site's Monthly Visitors

New York, August 13, 2009 -- Journalism Online, LLC, the company formed in April to provide technology and marketing support that enables publishers to charge for select web site access and digital content, announced today that publishers representing 506 newspapers and magazines (176 dailies and 330 non-dailies) as well as publishers of leading global news sites have signed letters of intent to become its affiliates. The web sites of these publishers have more than 90 million monthly visitors from around the world. Consumers will be able to use one universal Journalism Online account to gain access to subscriber content at the web sites of all its affiliates.

Affiliates will select their own approach to offering paid access, based on their respective brands, content and online readership. Each affiliate will also make its own announcements concerning the packages they plan to offer through Journalism Online once they have completed a modeling and analysis process in consultation with Journalism Online to determine their offerings.

"By creating a platform of flexible hybrid models for paid content that maximizes online advertising revenue while creating a new revenue stream from readers, Journalism Online has helped shift the debate over charging for online news from 'if' to 'when and how,'" said Journalism Online co-founder Steven Brill. "And now large numbers of publishers have moved past that abstract debate and are rolling up their sleeves to figure out with us exactly what kind of package is right for them."

Journalism Online also said that the models it is presenting to these publishers have initially yielded annual revenue targets per-subscriber of $50 to $100, from the most engaged 10% of their websites' online visitors, with little diminution of overall page views or online ad revenue. Thus, a website with one million monthly online visitors could over time expect to earn new revenues of $5-10 million; one with five million online visitors could expect new revenues of $25-50 million.

"Every publisher we have met with is now seeking to generate revenues for online access, which is a huge shift in strategy," said co-founder Gordon Crovitz, who for over a decade ran the Wall Street Journal Online as it became the largest subscription news site on the Web. "The interest shown by our affiliates and many other publishers with whom we are intensely engaged confirms the need for a sophisticated commerce platform to meet the challenges facing the media industry."

Beginning this fall, Journalism Online will provide affiliates multiple services to generate consumer revenues online, including a payment platform designed specifically for publishers and their online readers. This Reader Revenue Platform ™ enables publishers to test and continually adjust a broad variety of offerings while allowing customers the convenience of having one account to access content across multiple web sites and other electronic platforms. The publishers will be able to offer consumers a calibrated selection of content, using some 16 payment options customized for publishers.

"As we continue to engage with and sign affiliates, we are helping create viable models for these publishers so that they can maintain ad revenue online while adding a vital, new second stream of circulation revenue," Brill said. "All decisions with respect to how to charge, what to charge, whom to charge, or how and whether to bundle print, online and e-reader subscriptions will be left to each publisher. They could make any number of decisions, including deciding not to do anything once they consider all of the options we develop for them. We're giving them all the dials to turn, and we'll even provide dispatches from the field on what is working best across the globe at other affiliates' websites, but they will be the ones turning the dials," Brill added.

"To accommodate publishers who for competitive reasons did not want to be part of a group announcement and others who expressed a preference to announce their plans directly to their readers once they determine the packages they will offer, as well as to avoid even the appearance that publishers are acting in unison, affiliates will make their own announcements about their approach to paid access," Brill explained.

Online readers will able to create a single account through Journalism Online that will authorize them to access multiple web sites, blogs and other digital media, making it simple and convenient for them to add access to new brands.

"Although it is difficult to generalize because every publisher offers value to readers in a different way, what we have seen across the spectrum of these affiliates is that each can likely create an offering that is distinctive and will appeal to the segment of its online audience that reads them most regularly," Crovitz explained. "This 'freemium' approach results in some five to fifteen percent of the online readers becoming subscribers paying on average $50-100 dollars a year, although some will charge more and others less. These averages will also vary based on each publisher's mix of monthly and annual subscriptions and micropayments, for print publishers discounts for bundled print and online subscriptions as well as sales through Journalism Online on other platforms, such as e-readers-all of which is inherent in the flexibility we provide."

About Journalism Online, LLC

Founded in April 2009 by experienced media executives Steven Brill, Gordon Crovitz, and Leo Hindery, Jr., Journalism Online, whose services launch this fall, will enable news publishers to generate new revenues from readers and distributors for their digital content and to restore the optimal mix of circulation and advertising revenue necessary to finance original reporting and editing. Journalism Online is pioneering the effort to make the transition to a paid online model successful for publishers while giving readers easy access to the news they want, when they want it, on the web and through other forms of digital distribution. For more information: www.journalismonline.com.


For publishers joining the platform launch, their online readers will have the ability to create a single account through Journalism Online that will authorize them to access multiple layers of web sites, blogs and other digital media, making it simple and convenient for them to add access to new brands. Journalism Online affiliates have the option of launching paid-circulation initiatives with all or some of their titles with the fall launch of the e-commerce platform, however, it is expected that launches for most publishing companies will come in phases.

For readers, Journalism Online will help them discover news they value by helping publishers offer "all you can read" packages across multiple brands.

Journalism Online has presented business models for its affiliates that could result in each news franchise across print and online platforms adding from several hundred thousand dollars per year to tens of millions of dollars per year in bottom-line benefits, depending on its size and other variables. Journalism Online has stressed:

1. This is not an "either or" proposition under which online publishers get either advertising revenue or circulation revenue. Journalism Online's goal is to enable publishers to maximize both with a perpetually adjustable "freemium" approach of converting the most engaged users to paid levels of access-such as focusing on what the 10% most active online users would be willing to pay to access-while delivering significant page views by continuing to give most online users free access.

2. By charging consumers for some level of online access, print publishers will get significant benefits to their newspapers or magazines, especially with respect to pricing power for print and marketing-spend efficiencies that come with being able to offer access to the print and online editions at a single price.

3. Journalism Online's e-commerce engine will provide publishers the full range of options in terms of how to charge for what. These tools include terms from annual subscriptions to micro payments; different charging methods based on the location of readers or whether they are also print subscribers; and allowing consumers to purchase subscriptions to multiple brands. In addition, all affiliates will get access to best practices so that they can see how various strategies for paid access are working across the globe.

4. Journalism Online will enable publishers to offer their subscribers access to digital products in addition to web content, such as to their editions delivered through electronic readers.

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