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Playboy charges, users pay

Anyone who doesn't believe that Web sites can charge for content doesn't know about the Playboy Cyber Club.

Anyone who doesn't believe that Web sites can charge for content doesn't know about the Playboy Cyber Club.

On November 25, Playboy launched the Cyber Club, a fee-based feature that advertised "never-before-seen" photographs and content.

The new site had so much traffic that the media company's servers couldn't handle it. Playboy had to shut it down within a few days, but plans to relaunch Cyber Club in March with the same fee structure of $6.95 per month, $18.95 per quarter, or $60 a year, said Playboy spokeswoman Diane Stefani.

The Playboy site demonstrates one fact that many Netizens have long doubted: people will pay for content on the Web.

And the fact is not lost on producers of other Web sites. Companies that have long handed out content for free on the Net are banking on the fact that they've made junkies out of viewers and can now charge for the goods.

The Wall Street Journal Interactive and are two more examples of sites that are proving that users will pay.

While nobody is abandoning advertising, other sites are quickly climbing on the subscription bandwagon.

Slate, the Microsoft-owned magazine launched six months ago with every intention of eventually charging subscribers, finally is biting the bullet. On February 1 it will ask subscribers to pay $19.95 a year for exclusive content via the Internet. It also will publish a weekly paper edition of the magazine for $70 a year to provide those without Web access a peek in what's happening online.

While some sites have made a successful transition from free to paid access, many others have failed miserably.

Yes, people are willing to pay for content, but it has to be good, analysts warn.

"I very strongly believe that content providers are going to require actual payment for intellectual property and that people are going to be willing to pay for it," said David Locke, an analyst with Volpe, Welty. "There's not some kind of biological bias to receive content for free, that exists in our being."

But, he cautioned, "The ability to charge is going to be based on whether or not something is worth being charged for."

Right now most content on the Net is free and "It's pretty much worth what you're [not] paying for," Locke added.

Slate publisher Rogers Weed said he's convinced that subscribers will pay for a service they've been getting for free. "We did some focus groups and a reader survey; the evidence from both shows there's a fairly loyal group of people who read Slate."

MTV has been rumored to be considering an attempt to make money from its online content. While spokeswoman Caroline Mockridge said "MTV does not have plans to charge the user for access to the site, or direct subscription charges," she added that MTV Online has a relationship with AOL and is talking to unspecified Internet service providers to create joint business plans.

Mockridge would not discuss the nature of the partnerships, or whether MTV Online plans to charge users indirectly through AOL or ISPs.

If they do, be assured Web masters everywhere will be watching.