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Brill's Paper Chase

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The Scranton Times-Tribune and the Augusta Chronicle, not exactly mega-market dailies, are at the forefront of what will be a wave of newspapers adding a meter-based subscription offering this year, according to former Wall Street Journal publisher, Gordon Crovitz, now co-founder of Journalism Online. The company’s Press+—which the two papers are using—is a tech platform designed to help newspapers, magazines and Web-only publishers derive more revenue from their sites.

In the market since last summer, Press+ allows publishers to charge for access to portions of their sites and in whatever fashion they see fit. Consumers can sign up to pay for content on multiple sites.

So far, Crovitz and partner Steven Brill (founder of American Lawyer and Court TV) have signed deals with seven of the top 10 newspaper companies—about 20 publishers overall, with more in the works. “We think 2011 will be the year when publishers stop waiting and start saying, ‘I wish I’d done this sooner,’” said Crovitz.

Crovitz believes in a conservative approach to charging for content. “This is very different from a pay wall,” he said. “This allows publishers to keep all of their ad revenue.” The average Press+ partner has seen zero to 7 percent traffic declines as the result of using the product.

However, some in the industry question how much momentum Journalism Online has. The aforementioned Scranton and Augusta papers are among the biggest partners on a list that includes the Chico Enterprise Record, the York Daily Record and a pair of nonprofits. There are no Chicago Tribunes or Houston Chronicles on board just yet.

Crovitz would not disclose revenue figures, only to say, “We’re very pleased…we have a very high retention rate.”

Philip Balboni, president and CEO of the international news site GlobalPost, raved about Press+: “I’m a passionate believer in deriving revenue direct from consumers.”

But as the two-year-old site remains in audience building mode—Balboni has been ultra-conservative with Press+

The site doesn’t charge for content access, but rather invites frequent users to become members of the site, a la PBS, to receive special privileges—for $2.95 a month.