Polish media unite to charge for online content

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By VANESSA GERA, Associated Press

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Several major Polish media companies are joining forces to put some of their best online content behind a combined paywall — an attempt to maintain revenue as print readership declines.

The initiative, known as Piano, has already been implemented with success in Slovakia and Slovenia, where people pay a small one-time fee for unlimited access to a range of websites. Poland, with 19.5 million Internet users in a nation of 38 million, represents the first large market to try this pay model, and how it fares could determine whether it takes hold in other countries.

Digital visitors subscribing to the initiative will pay 19.90 zlotys ($5.80; €4.75) a month for access to premium content on 42 websites belonging to six media publishing companies. Among them are major news sites, including the leading daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, Forbes magazine and a range of sports and lifestyle magazines.

Peter Richards, the Poland manager of Piano Media, a Slovak company that runs the initiative, said he believes many web users in search of high quality content will be willing to pay the monthly fee, noting that the price is about the equivalent of two coffees.

"We think that for two cups of coffee people will buy it," Richards said. The company collects fees from web users and distributes them to the publishers, keeping some of the earnings for itself.

The initiative begins Wednesday when the company's piano logo appeared on websites, alerting readers that from September some content will only be available behind a paywall, when the subscription service begins.

Most of the websites will still provide a lot of free content to continue drawing viewers to their sites, but highly valued material, such as investigative pieces or political commentary, will only be available to subscribers. In some cases, publishers say they will be putting new material behind the paywall that they hadn't put online before.

Richards says the Piano pay model emulates cable television.

"You pay once, log in once and access a portfolio," he said. "We don't believe people want to buy multiple online subscriptions. It's about convenience."

Media outlets have also experimented with a subscription fee for all content on site — such as The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times — or micropayments for each article.

The six publishers include two Polish-owned groups, Agora and Murator, along with four internationally owned publishers: Swiss-German Ringier Axel Springer, British Media Regionalne, German Polskapresse and Edytor. Richards says Piano hopes that if the initiative proves profitable for the foreign-owned publishers they will also want to introduce it in their other markets.

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