Newsday, San Francisco Chronicle To Start Charging For Online Content

Browsing the Web sites of two major daily newspapers is about to start costing: After posting substantial losses, both Newsday and the San Francisco Chronicle have announced plans to begin charging readers for online content.

Late Thursday, Tom Zucker, COO of Newsday‘s parent company Cablevision said the paper plans “to end the distribution of free Web content.” Zucker declined to specify when when Newsday will begin charging to read content on its site, and did not reveal what that pricing would be. The shift comes as ad revenue and circulation are both down at the paper: Cablevision bought Newsday for $650 million in May 2008, and was recently forced to write down Newsday‘s value by $402 million, leading to a fourth-quarter loss.

Meanwhile on the West coast…

San Francisco Chronicle parent company Hearst said Tuesday it would be forced to sell or close the paper if a series of layoffs and cost-cutting measures do not put the paper back into the black. According to former Chronicle city editor Alan Mutter, the paper’s management team revealed at emergency meetings held Wednesday that plans for the paper include the creation of “pay-per-view sections on the Web site.” The San Francisco Chronicle also reported losses for 2008, to the tune of $50 million.

As revenues continue their precipitous decline, we can expect more newpapers to consider adopting online pay models. Back in October, the Christian Science Monitor announced it would shift to a “Web-based strategy” that includes charging subscription fees for a daily PDF edition. Other outlets charging for online content have yielded mixed results: The LA Times began charging for online access to its “Calendar” arts section in 2003, but eliminated the pay wall in 2005 after seeing a sharp drop in traffic to its Web site. Around that time, the New York Times tried putting its opinion columnists behind a pay wall with the 2005 implementation of its “TimesSelect” program, but scrapped the subscription program two years later, saying “projections for growth on that paid subscriber base were low, compared to the growth of online advertising.”

On the other hand, both the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times have continued charging readers to view some portions of their Web sites. Whether shifting to similar models will deliver equivalent successes to other newspapers in the current climate remain to be seen.