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Tabloid to readers: Log off and cough up

Paying lip service to "free Web crap," begs readers to go buy a paper to help keep the service alive.

You can't believe everything you read in the tabloids, but trust on this one: Sales are down.

The American Media-owned tabloid's Web site has been running a pitch for two weeks that tells readers in no uncertain terms that their preference for the free site over paid subscriptions and newsstand sales is cutting into the company's bottom line.

"I've had enough of this free Web crap," reads the notice, signed by Weekly World News regular columnist "Ed Anger." "When I was a kid, the only thing we got for free was a beating."

In the age of "free Web crap," it's Weekly World News' circulation that has taken a beating. In March 2000, circulation was 306,000 per week. A year later, that was down to 254,000, according to American Media.

Anger proceeds to urge readers ("all you deadbeats") to purchase copies of the publication or risk losing the Web site altogether.

"It's better on paper anyway," Anger insists. "We kill 300,000 trees a year just so our loyal readers can take this fun publication to their bathrooms. You have a computer in your bathroom? Ha! I didn't think so."

American Media representatives called the Web page a "gag," but one with a purpose.

"It is an attempt to build newsstand sales for Weekly World News," said company spokesman Gerald McKelvey.

Weekly World News joins an array of media properties experimenting with ways of inducing their online readers to pay for content. Yahoo and Motley Fool have added fee-based content recently, while the Jerusalem Post is requiring readers to first enter a drawing with full identifying information.

American Media acknowledged that its newsstand and subscription sales have taken a hit among its other properties as well, which include the National Enquirer, Star and Country Weekly Magazine.

"I would say that it's clearly evident--what you give away for nothing it's difficult to get people to buy," McKelvey said. "This is something pretty much endemic to print publications that also have Web sites."

McKelvey said American Media toyed with the idea of charging subscription fees for its Web sites, a ploy that has worked for only a tiny handful of non-pornographic content sites.

"We're a long way from doing that," McKelvey said. "This is just a reminder to readers that we make money on sales, not on freebies."