Johnston Press halts paywall experiment

Johnston Press is to drop the paywalls it implemented on a number of its local newspapers from next week, Press Gazette understands

The regional publisher erected barriers on two of its Scottish and four of its English weekly newspaper websites in November as part of a trial to “get an understanding of what the customer dynamic is around paid-for content”.

The scheme saw the publisher trial different access methods across the six papers; reader registration, uploading “teaser” stories which referred readers back to full versions in the print edition, and paid-for access.

The paid-for access trial, which charged readers £5 a quarter to access web content, was seen by many as a test to assess whether paywalls could be implemented on flagship titles such as The Scotsman and the Yorkshire Post.

One source has told Press Gazette the number of subscribers paying to access stories on the website of Selkirk-based the Southern Reporter was in the low double figures.

Johnston Press today declined to comment on the success of the trial.

Press Gazette understands the trial, which was originally due to run for three months, is set to come to an end next week – however two of the weeklies involved appear to have already removed digital barriers.

Full stories on the Whitby Gazette and the Southern Reporter were freely available this morning.

The Worksop Guardian, the Northumberland Gazette, Ripley & Heanor News and the Carrick Gazette appear to still have some restriction on access to full stories on their websites.

A spokeswoman for Johnston Press told Press Gazette: “The trial was intended purely for internal purposes. Therefore we will not be making any public comment about it.”

The decision by Johnston Press to end its paywall experiment comes a week after Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times and The Times newspapers outlined details of how they would launch a paid-for access model in June.

Publisher News International said readers would be charged £1 for a day’s access or £2 for a week’s subscription to the new stand-alone websites for The Times and Sunday Times.

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