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Star Tribune not part of online fee venture

There was a stir in the media world last week when Court TV creator Steven Brill’s new company, Journalism Online, announced it had signed up 506 newspapers, magazines and news sites interested in charging for web content.

JO’s pay portal would allow users to pay one fee to access many sites, one reason scale is so important. (The company says its roster accounts for 90 million monthly visitors.)

However, JO won’t specify who signed up. Are the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press among the 170 dailies getting in?

Ben Taylor, the Strib’s senior vice-president for marketing and communications, says no. “We have had discussions with Brill’s venture and others but have made no commitments.  We don’t think there is one silver bullet, so we are looking at all the options.”

That makes sense, especially timing-wise. The Strib is still in bankruptcy, and making a drastic decision when ownership is in flux isn’t optimal.

I don’t think the PiPress is on board either, though I’m still awaiting a callback from owner Media News Group. The Denver-based corporation, one of America’s largest publishers, has not been listed among those signing up in earlier reports, though it has been clear it wants to charge for content.

The JO plan, by the way, allows publishers flexibility in what they charge for. The likeliest scenario would put truly proprietary content behind the paywall — say, the investigative stories the Strib now keeps offline for four days, or insiderish coverage for sports junkies, which has worked in places like Green Bay. In many cases, you’ll probably see access bundled with print subscriptions, although JO notes online-only “annual or monthly subscriptions, day passes, and single articles” could be bought.

In the end, will it work? There’s lots of reasons to think consumers won’t pay, or publishers will be undercut by the jillions of free sites that will remain, and the loss of ad dollars won’t be made up by fees. But it’s a time of experimentation, not to mention desperation, so you will see paywalls advance somehow.

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