“Post” Considering Paywall for Website

Washington Post Company Chairman Donald Graham hints it may join other news outlets in requiring website visitors to pay for digital content.

By: Harry Jaffe

The days of freely surfing the Washington Post digital offerings gratis might be coming to a close.

Washington Post Company Chairman Donald Graham told a media conference Tuesday he was considering setting up a paywall that would require readers to subscribe to all or part of the Post’s website.

“We are obviously looking at paywalls of every type,” Graham told a session of the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference. He said he’s considering paywalls and “keeping it free.”

Graham’s statement was a major departure from his past pronouncements. While other major news organizations, such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, require readers to pay for access to parts of their digital content, the Post has been adamant in remaining free.

Graham seems to have been betting that millions more readers would visit washingtonpost.com if they could swoop in without paying. That bet hasn’t paid off, and he has watched the Times thrive even as it walled off parts of its journalism to nonpaying customers.

Meanwhile, the Post has continued to lose readers and revenue faster than other news operations.

Graham has previously used the UBS conference to signal shifts in the company. Before the 2007 conference, Graham first described the Post Company as an education and media company, rather than a media concern, since Kaplan, its education arm, was bringing in the lion’s share of its revenues. That was before the federal government tightened regulations on Kaplan and other for-profit education companies, causing revenues to plummet.

Perhaps Graham is hoping paying media customers can firm up the company’s profits.