Capital NY Tweaks Prices Ahead of Paywall

Free content becomes paid on Feb. 11

Capital New York has tweaked its pricing as it prepares to start charging for e-newsletters and news coverage today (Feb. 11), making it the latest startup to test consumers' willingness pay for news.

The experiment will no doubt be closely watched as news sites, new and established, search for successful models for content that balance advertising and subscriber revenue. And while parent Allbritton Communications already has substantial experience charging for content in the D.C. market with Politico, it faces questions as to whether it can replicate that model in New York, where Capital is attempting to charge for media as well as City Hall and Albany coverage.

Executives at Capital have acknowledged that media could be a tougher sell than politics and policy coverage. Capital originally was offering access to all three verticals for one price, $5,990 a year. But now, it's allowing people to subscribe to Media Pro only for the lower price of $4,000. (Prices are for up to five users at the subscriber organization.)

Capital realized that media is a crowded space and that while there's not a lot of actionable information it could provide, comprehensive coverage would be important to that audience, said Tom McGeveran, the site's co-founder and editor. "We want to create the feeling that, if you read our morning and afternoon newsletters, you know everything you need to know," he said. Capital has been tracking how often people open newsletters and what they read, and on that basis, added a second p.m. e-newsletter for media so as not to bombard them with emails throughout the day. McGeveran said the open rate on those emails is 30-40 percent.

News sites can expect to see a dropoff in audience after they erect payrolls. There's also the question of whether narrowing its audience will restrict Capital's ability to get the scoops that are at the core of beat coverage.

Like Politico, Capital's site will now contain a certain amount of content that's only accessible to subscribers. At sibling Politico, 20 to 30 percent of the site is generally free, general interest content, which enables it to attract a broad audience. These are early days for Capital, though, and McGeveran said there was no similar rule of thumb. The site has been looking at the story mix in the weeks leading up to the paywall and labeling stories free and paid internally, and on that basis, it could be as much as 60 percent paid on some days, though, he said.

Despite all the uncertainty Capital faces in building a paid subscription base (McGeveran said only that the company is "pleased" with signups so far), there's a sense that the model is somehow more pure than the traffic-chasing route that other news sites are going.

"It feels very, very clean and organic," McGeveran said. "If it works, it's going to be really, really great.…BuzzFeed has been enormously successful. But that's a very different kind of game. They need the scale they're developing. I don't think we do."