Here Comes Paid WaPo!

It’s been rumored to be on the way for many months and even years, but it seems paying for unlimited digital access to the Washington Post is finally happening this summer, according to the rather authoritative source of WaPo itself, in a piece by Steven Mufson in the Business section today. Based (I am guessing) on the success of the New York Times‘ “metered” model (allowing a limited number of visits to the site before a subscription would be necessary), that’s where WaPo’s headed:

This summer, The Washington Post will start charging frequent users of its Web site, asking those who look at more than 20 articles or multimedia features a month to pay a fee, although the company has not yet decided how much it will charge.

The paper said, however, that it would exempt large parts of its audience from having to pay the fees. Its home-delivery subscribers will have free access to all of The Post’s digital products, and students, teachers, school administrators, government employees and military personnel will have unlimited access to the Web site while in their schools and workplaces.

Not bloggers, though.

Access to The Post’s home page, section front pages and classified ads will not be limited.

The article contains a data point I wasn’t familiar with: 90% of the Post‘s online audience lives outside the Washington area. So not too many current heavy users are going to go for the combo platter print and online subscription.

I managed to “just say no” when the Wall Street Journal set up its paywall (which is all-or-nothing, not the “metered” approach); most of the content I’d use drifts online for free after a day, and it’s not like the Journal‘s editorials or Peggy Noonan’s columns are immediate must-reads, unless you need a quick laugh.

But if you are a news-cycle blogger, the Times (to which I succumbed after a brief experiment in trying to get by with free visits) and WaPo are indispensable. So I’ll be ponying up the bucks out of my own pocket.

If, as is extremely likely to be the case, the practice spreads, many of us will just become more discriminating readers. I was recently challenged by the Macon (GA) Telegraph to cough up subscription money or lose access to their UGA sports blogger, the only item I’d ever read there. Lose access I did.

Readers are welcome to register their thoughts on the slow-motion riot of paywalls and meters for online content in the comment thread–still free, and sometimes a free-for-all.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.