Slovakia Erects Country-Wide Paywall

Major news organizations band together to charge subscription fees

Americans might be griping about the New York Times’ newly erected paywall, but we could have it a lot worse: Consider Slovakia, which, on Monday, put up a paywall around the entire country.

Nine major media organizations have joined in charging a single subscription fee—$4.14 per month or $1.41 per week—to gain access to their online content. The titles included are Slovakia’s oldest daily newspaper Pravda, the country’s main broadsheet SME, business paper Hospodarske noviny, sports paper Dennik Sport, weekly magazine Tyzden, media business site, video portal, and monthly IT magazine PC Revue.

The paywall endeavor, known as Project Piano, will be free for the next two weeks, after which users will have to pay. But each site will have slightly different guidelines. Most will charge users to comment on articles, but some will allow one or two free comments per day. The business paper will leave its financial forums open for free, while only paid users will be able to ask questions on them. Dennik Sport will make users pay for its stories between midnight and 8 a.m., but leave them open for the rest of the day. And some sites will be ad-free.

The man organizing the paywall is Tomáš Bella, the former editor in chief of SME’s website. His Project Piano company will take 30 percent of the paywall’s revenue (which will end up at about 5 to 10 percent after fees) and give the rest to the news outlets, with the specific amounts depending on how much time readers spend on each of their sites.

Out of a population of 5.7 million people, Slovakia has about 4 million Internet users, 0.8 to 1.5 percent of whom will subscribe to the paywall, according to an estimation that Bella gave PaidContent. If Bella can get 1.5 percent, he stands to make about $3 million in fees per year before commission.

Bella said he hopes for growth over the next several years: "The upper limit for a system like this could be somewhere between 5 and 15 percent of the Internet population in any country, in a five- to seven-year time frame," he said. If his model proves successful, he hopes to export it to other countries like Denmark and Holland.

@adweekemma Emma Bazilian is Adweek's features editor.