Last updated: November 30, 2010 10:35 pm

Telegraph plans to charge for online content

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The Telegraph Media Group is to draw up plans to charge for some online news content next year.

It would join News International and the Financial Times in putting articles behind a paywall, having previously been a supporter of free news content online.

The Telegraph’s plans signal a developing consensus in the newspaper industry that a hybrid model of paid-for and free content is needed as publishers confront steady declines in print circulation and the loss of advertising to web rivals.

A person familiar with the Telegraph’s strategy said: “The final decision has not been made, but it will not be an impregnable paywall like the Times. It will be a metered system or, less likely, micropayments.”

Another person closely concerned with the change in policy said it was not inconsistent with the Telegraph’s past approach, adding: “We never said never to paying for content. It is a process of evolution.”

In regard to timing, the first person said that the payment system was unlikely to be introduced before next summer – but added: “It will be in 2011.”

A Telegraph Media Group spokesperson said: “Like all publishers, TMG continually evaluates the developments in the digital sector. No decisions have been made on the introduction of a paid-content model.”

The Telegraph’s website attracted 33.9m users in October, up 6 per cent on the previous year, by latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulation.

News International this year became the UK’s first general news publisher to embrace the paywall model, charging for online access to the Times, Sunday Times and the News of the World.

The Telegraph will not follow News International’s “all-or-nothing” strategy, which prevents readers from accessing any articles without paying and has seen stories removed from search engines such as Google News.

Instead, the Telegraph’s approach will echo that of the Financial Times and the forthcoming New York Times paywall, whereby several articles can be read before readers are charged.

Douglas McCabe, media analyst at Enders, said TMG’s plans tallied with broader acceptance that a hybrid model offered publishers the best way to remain “part of the conversation” online.

“Overall we’re going to move into a period where publishers will experiment with part-free and part-paid. The advantage of a metered paywall is that all the news is still findable on Google. As newspaper publishers, these businesses need a share of voice . . . Therefore you need a strategy that optimises audiences as well as revenues.”

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