Variety to start charging for content in 2010

Just about every major periodical is pondering a move to paid digital content, but most are taking an oh-so-gingerly approach, trying to figure out how to coax some fresh revenues out of readers without taking a big hit in traffic and advertising. Not Variety, though.

The Hollywood trade paper is going whole hog with a commitment to adopt an all-paid Web model at some point in 2010 -- even if it means excluding most of its current readers. "We believe our content is valuable and it should be paid for," says publisher Brian Gott. "The world is migrating online. If we don't create a paid strategy for our digital products now, when that migration is over, we won't have a paid model anymore."

Variety's plan to go all-paid was first reported by Hollywood blogger Nikki Finke. Finke also reported that The Hollywood Reporter, Variety's chief competitor, will shut down its print edition by the end of the year, but sources there insist no such plan is in place.

Right now, said Gott, Variety.com averages about 2.5 million unique visitors and eight million to 10 million page views a month. Those numbers are certain to plummet once the site erects a subscription wall. While that prospect has so far frightened most consumer publications into keeping their sites free, Variety believes it can afford the trade-off. "We are a B-to-B [ie. business-to-business] publication," says Gott. "We service the entertainment industry professional. We have zero interest in getting into the traffic game."

Under the new regime, Variety subscribers will pay one subscription price in order to get access in print, on the website, on mobile devices, and in any other format Variety's information appears. That said, the paper would still like to find a way to allow casual readers to purchase the occasional article, just as they can now buy a single issue on the newsstand without subscribing. Gott says the business plan is being developed entirely in-house rather than with the help of an outside firm such as Journalism Online, which was started earlier this year in order to provide publishers with the technological capability to do just this sort of thing.

I also asked Gott if he had any intelligence on The Hollywood Reporter's plans; Finke told me Variety is "operating on the assumption" that its rival will retreat from print by the end of 2009. "We are hearing the same rumors everyone else in town is," he said. "I have no comment on that."

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