Washington Post plans paywall

The Washington Post, one of the last holdouts against the trend of charging readers for online access to newspaper articles, is likely to reverse that decision in 2013, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that while details are being finished, people familiar with the matter said that a metered paywall—meaning a website that allows casual readers to read a certain number of stories free before charging a subscription fee — is likely to be rolled out in 2013, along with increases to the print newspaper’s newsstand price. One person familiar with the matter said the paywall will be introduced no earlier than next summer.

The Post is dealing with a steep decline in its core business of print advertising. Its newspaper division reported an operating loss of $56.3 million for the first nine months of the year, reflecting a 14% decline in revenue to $160.7 million. The company lost its chief revenue officer in the spring, and the search for a replacement continues.

Most other newspapers in the country, including the New York Times and Gannett Co.’s local papers, have introduced paywalls in the past year or so, generating increased circulation revenues that offset print advertising losses. But among major newspapers, the Post has stood almost alone in its decision to keep its website free. The Wall Street Journal’s website has always had a paywall.

Don Graham, the chairman of Washington Post Co., has long argued that the Post’s unique position as a locally distributed paper with a national online readership makes it ill-suited for a paywall. He reiterated that view during a UBS investor conference earlier this week, noting that Post had robust digital advertising revenue that a paywall would threaten. But, noting that former Washington Post Co. board members and longtime Graham family friend Warren Buffett was a supporter of paywalls, he left the door open a crack to the possibility of adding one at the Post.

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