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Chicago Tribune offers literature fans premium paid content

Chicago Tribune offers literature fans premium paid content

The Chicago Tribune has announced that it will be offering subscribers a new Sunday books section as a piece of premium paid content.

Printers Row, as the section will be called, will cost Tribune subscribers an additional $99 a year. Those who sign up will get a 24-page book supplement every Sunday, featuring reviews, interviews with authors and news from Chicago's literary scene as well as a free book of short stories each week.

The Chicago Tribune describes the launch in its own business section as "a means to bolster revenue beyond the traditional subscription and advertising model" by offering readers with niche interests a high-quality targeted product that they will be willing to pay for. Gerould Kern, senior vice president and editor of the Chicago Tribune states that "audiences want very specialized information, and we are going to give them that".

The Tribune compares its model to cable TV subscriptions, which encourage users to sign up to a basic package and then pay for extra premium channels.

The idea of adding extra products to make users pay is nothing new. To take one example, in an interview with the Editors Weblog last year, Bill Mitchell, Head of Entrepreneurial and International Programs at the Poynter Institute, said that to make readers pay, news organizations have to provide them with "evidence of new value".

Media analyst Ken Doctor recently published an article in Nieman Lab stressing the importance of media organisations making themselves stand out by creating "signature content" that users can't get elsewhere. Premium products like Printers Row are perhaps a good example.

In an article about the Tribune's new section in Chicago Business, former Tribune editor Owen Youngman also praised "the strategy of identifying those things that are most valuable to customers and trying to get them to pay for them".

The value of Printers Row doesn't just lie in the products that it offers readers, but in the way that it is supposed to make subscribers feel part of a club. Those who sign up will be able to attend author events and discussion groups that are closed to the rest of the public, so the publication may fulfill a social function by bringing members of Chicago's vibrant literary scene together.

If it is successful, the new sub-section may almost become a brand in its own right. Single editions will be sold separately from the rest of the paper through Amazon for $2.99 each. To persuade readers that it's worth the price, the Tribune will distribute a free edition of Printers Row to all its subscribers next Sunday.

But it is still possible that this added value won't be enough. Ken Doctor, who is quoted by the Tribune, worries that the price has been set too high. Printers Row "needs to be a product that really stands out in the marketplace, given that readers can get reviews so many other places," he states.

Even for dedicated literature fans who are willing to pay, the Tribune's section will face stiff competition from the New York Times book review section, which costs $91 a month for Illinois delivery.

Another worry is the fact that, for 60 years, the Tribune had a Sunday book review section which was available to all subscribers, but which did not survive. In a series of cost-cutting measures, the supplement was moved to Saturdays in 2007, before being incorporated into the rest of the paper in 2008, and whittled down to a single page.

The survival of this new, premium version must be important to the paper, which is under financial pressure. Chicago Business reported last October that the Tribune had published a memo saying that its cash flow was 24% lower than projected in its business plan and that it was suffering from a slump in advertising.

The paper's parent company Tribune entered bankruptcy proceedings in 2008.

Sources: Chicago Tribune, Editors Weblog (1) (2) Nieman Lab, Chicago Business


Hannah Vinter


2012-01-24 18:07

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