As news organizations worldwide wonder if they can charge for content that readers are accustomed to getting free of charge, two Eastern European countries have pioneered a new model: erecting national pay walls and charging a monthly fee for access to most of their newspapers.
"Our next priority would be to prove it's not only for small countries or Eastern Europe. We need to do two to three medium-sized countries," said Tomas Bella, chief executive of Piano Media, which launched the first national pay wall in Slovakia last May.
Slovak users pay just under $4 a month to access nine news websites, including mainstream newspapers SME, Hospodárske Noviny, and Pravda, plus business, sports, and technology publications. In wealthier Slovenia, users pay $6.50 for a similar mix. The model does not require all newspapers to participate in order to succeed, Bella told Christian Science Monitor reporter Jason Walsh.
To successfully use the model, newspapers need to get back to providing hard news that is relevant to people's lives, according to Andrew Calcutt, journalism professor at the University of East London.
"The Piano Media model could possibly work elsewhere if people got used to the idea that news was something special," Calcutt said. "But the papers have spent too much time disguising what they are and what they do well.... People have become so habituated to mush that they may not know what to do with hard news."