The Houston Chronicle Tries Its Hand at a Paywall

Houston's only daily has hopped on the paywall bandwagon with the release of its new HoustonChronicle.com Web site that is different from Chron.com...and 29-95.com. We think that's all of them.

According to CultureMap, the Chron is employing a paywall for a separate Web site similar to the one used by the Boston Globe, which has Boston.com for free and BostonGlobe.com as a pay site. The domains are certainly less confusing for the Boston Web sites, but the concept is not necessarily going to be successful.

Numerous print newspapers have attempted to implement pay sites like HoustonChronicle.com, mostly unsuccessfully, in order to recoup advertising losses as a result of free digital versions of their publications. The one kind of paywall that has seemed to work has been the New York Times model that provides metered access to visitors -- X number of stories available before the paywall kicks in. Other papers have moved to this as the NYT brought in revenue.

I, like many, am wary of full-on paywall sites, even if some content is offered free, mainly because the free content is often not as valuable or useful as the stuff behind the paywall, unless you are really into celeb gossip and slideshows. But newspapers are having a tough time figuring out how to monetize content because they allowed it free online from the start, not realizing the impact the Web would ultimately have. They have learned it's hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube, as it were.

I've also been puzzled by the seemingly confusing approach to the Chron's online strategy, whether it be the "Ultimate" blog sections for sports that look and function nothing like the rest of the Web site; the decision to not heavily promote 29-95.com from the beginning as its entertainment arm; and now going with two completely separate Web sites with strikingly similar domain names but completely different looks.

Given the rapid change around the Chron over the last year or so, it would make sense that it has taken them some time to form a cohesive Internet strategy. Perhaps this will be the new direction for the entire publication and, if so, it will be interesting to watch.

If you're interested, the new site is $2.50 per week unless you are a print subscriber.

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