Some mainstream newspapers are trying to charge readers for online content, but the country’s roughly 2,000 college papers have shied away from paywalls.
An Oklahoma student newspaper is breaking that mold—delicately.
In a possible first for college news media, Oklahoma State University’s Daily O’Collegian newspaper next week will begin charging nonlocal readers for Web content. Online access to the paper will cost $10 a year for readers outside a 25-mile radius of the university’s Stillwater campus, but articles will remain free for those who use a “.edu” e-mail address or who visit the site no more than three times a month, says Raymond W. Catalino, general manager of the O’Collegian.
“It’s a beginning step in establishing the fact that what we produce has value outside of our immediate market, and people ought to be willing to pay for that,” Mr. Catalino tells Wired Campus.
Whether a market exists for paid college news online is unclear. The Oklahoma newspaper, which boasts a print circulation of 10,000, will be “the first college news outlet to attempt a pay scheme of any sort,” says the blog College Media Matters.
The move comes as many newspapers confront a new financial pressure: College Publisher, a formerly free content-management system used by student newspapers, may now cost nearly $2,000 a year, according to an announcement late last month. (A Q&A about those changes is available here.)
Bryan Murley, assistant professor of new and emerging media at Eastern Illinois University, welcomes the O’Collegian experiment but voices skepticism that it can succeed on a large scale. He questions whether there are enough off-campus readers who would be willing to pay for news generated on campus. And he doubts any college newspapers will consider total paywalls any time soon.
“This is the time in journalism where we’re sort of going to the coins-in-the-couch model of making money—wherever we can get a little bit here and there to keep things going,” says Mr. Murley, primary author of the Innovation in College Media blog. “And I think that’s really what this is about.”
Mr. Catalino’s expectations are modest. The subscription fee would affect at most 25 percent of the O’Collegian‘s online readership, he says, and possibly a lot less. But he sees an untapped market among parents, alumni, Oklahoma State sports fans, and potential students.
“I’d be happy to get 100 people the first year,” Mr. Catalino says. “I’m not really doing this for the revenue at this point. I’m basically trying to see if it will work.”
Mr. Catalino is taking the paywall plunge with help from an e-commerce platform called Press+. That service, introduced last year, is part of Journalism Online, a company co-founded by Steven Brill, who created The American Lawyer magazine and Court TV. Press+ bills its mission as “helping publishers around the world reclaim their business on the Web.”
Press+ retains a share of the fees generated by online content, but a company spokeswoman would not disclose that figure, and neither would Mr. Catalino.