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Playboy leads the charge

Playboy Enterprises plans to become one of the few Web sites to charge for access to a more comprehensive online edition, and it probably won't lose too many subscribers.

Playboy Enterprises said today that it plans to become one the few Web sites to charge for access to a more comprehensive online edition of its flagship magazine, and it doesn't expect to lose too many subscribers as a result.

Photographs, articles, and information now available on the site will still be available on the Web for free, but for a yearly, subscribers will have access to a "members only" proprietary area. This section, the magazine promises, will include never-before-seen photographs and content created specifically for online readers.

Playboy receives about 5 million hits daily, making it one of the most heavily trafficked Web sites. Other electronic publications that want to charge for their services are hoping that Playboy, because of its popularity, will influence the rest of the industry with its fee-based system.

But the path to success for online publishing remains unclear because no content-based sites have yet to turn a profit. In the meantime, fee-based sites may lose ground to competitors that still provide free services, according to Mark Mooradian, editor of Interactive Content at Jupiter Communications.

Among those sites that have been charging for their publications are the Wall Street Journal, which costs $49 per year or $29 for print subscribers, and the San Jose Mercury News which charges $4.95 per month for breaking news. Both the Journal and the Mercury declined to reveal the number of paid subscribers they have.

Currently, the majority of popular content sites, including the New York Times, Pathfinder--which hosts magazines including People, Money, and Time--and the Los Angeles Times are free to users. They rely on advertising for revenue.