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Oct. 25, 2010, 11:30 a.m.

National Journal relaunch tests free/pay content strategy

When your site goes hybrid, with a combination of paid and free content, the question becomes: What goes in front of the paywall?

That question will be front and center at National Journal, a Washington, D.C. publication until today published behind a paywall (over $1,000 per year) for political insiders, like Hill staffers, lobbyists, and so on. It relaunched today with a new, dual online strategy, aiming to attract a second, more general-interest audience. National Journal will still charge subscribers for the in-depth, nitty-gritty Washington coverage they’re known for, but will post their national and breaking news — about a quarter of its stories — for free. Until today, only a handful of National Journal stories were available without a subscription. With many Washington publications going niche, it’ll be interesting to watch whether the site can make a go of it in the opposite direction.

“If our goal is building subscriber base, we’ll have to measure that with the natural, ego-driven interest to put everything on a free site,” David Beard, National Journal Group’s online editor and deputy editor-in-chief told me.

Beard expects to post stories which appeal to a broad, national audience, particularly breaking news, on the free version of the site. The plan is very much in line with advice Alan Murray, executive editor of WSJ.com, gave Nieman Lab alum Zach Seward last year on monetizing content. “The key is not to take your most popular stuff and put it behind a pay wall,” Murray said. “The broad, popular stuff is the stuff you want out in the free world because that drives traffic, that builds up your traffic, and you can, of course, serve advertising to that audience.”

Beard gave me this hypothetical to describe his plan: “If Christine O’Donell won [the Senate race in Delware], or showed some increase in the polls, that would go [up for free]. If she become chair of an agriculture subcommittee, that would go to the subscribers. That would go to the people who really care about the nuts and bolts of government operations.”

Beard also said that National Journal has plans for about 40 email newsletter products. About ten of them will be free. The morning newsletter world is already crowded in Washington, particular by their chief competition, Politico, which puts out Mike Allen’s morning read, as well as a number of free policy-oriented daily emails, like Morning Money and Morning Tech. “The idea is that some of that might be cheeky aggregation,” Beard told me. “I think the goal is that people paying for this [newsletter], it’s x percent more important and better.”

POSTED     Oct. 25, 2010, 11:30 a.m.
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