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Pioneer Press owner on pay wall experiment: Meh

I don’t think anyone lies awake at night worried the Pioneer Press will institute a pay wall anytime soon. The Star Tribune is still the likeliest to take the step in this market, however gingerly.

I don’t think anyone lies awake at night worried the Pioneer Press will institute a pay wall anytime soon. The Star Tribune is still the likeliest to take the step in this market, however gingerly. Still, Dean Singleton, chairman and CEO of PiPress owner MediaNews Group, has talked up the revenue stream in the past.

Almost exactly a year ago, MediaNews announced a pay wall experiment for papers in Chico, California and York, Pennsylvania. Readers wound up having to pay for some staff-generated content if they viewed more than 10 stories per month. Friday, Singleton told the Denver Business Journal the results were a resounding nothing-burger.

“We’re finding that as we put most of our staff-written content behind a pay wall, we’ve been able to maintain our traffic,” Singleton said in an interview. “We were concerned we’d lose traffic, and we really haven’t lost much traffic. We’ve been able to maintain our solid growth in advertising.” …

Few readers are ponying up to read the premium stuff in either test market.

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“We are somewhat disappointed in the number of consumers that don’t go beyond the pay wall.” Singleton said. “That tells us that there may not be as many consumers that will pay for content as we’d hoped. However, it also tells us that we are beginning, over time, to convince the consumer that all content is not free.”

Sadly for Singleton (who will soon lose his CEO title in a reorganization), the consumer seems convinced that free is the price they’ll pay. Even though iPad hopes spring eternal (for the moment), general-interest papers seem less gung-ho about pay walls and bullish on apps.

I still see some value in pay walls as an extra incentive for print subscribers to hang in there, since these plans frequently give traditionalists full web access, though not to apps and e-editions. I value my Sunday New York Times subscription in part because it insulates me from whatever metering scheme executives unveil this year.

Strib leaders also sound committed to the principle, though when they release their redesigned website this spring, we’ll see whether they introduce mobile and tablet apps and what those charges will be.