Variety slips into subscription outfit

The online version of the film and music industry news magazine quietly unveils a newly designed Web site that puts a price tag on previously free content.

Stefanie Olsen Staff writer, CNET News
Stefanie Olsen covers technology and science.
Stefanie Olsen
3 min read
Variety.com, the online version of the film and music industry news magazine, has quietly unveiled a newly designed Web site that puts a price tag on previously free content.

The revamped, subscription-only Web site launched late Tuesday. Although the site has always charged for archived material, allowing free access only to top headlines and other features, it now asks Web surfers to pay for their entertainment industry fix.

"We've moved everything behind the paid wall," said Henry Shapiro, Variety.com's vice president and general manager. "We think there is a high degree of value in our content, and we're concerned with maintaining the delivery of a qualified professional audience for our advertisers."

Variety.com's move to an all-subscription model follows similar measures by other online publishers, which are attempting to counteract shrinking revenues that result from the sagging advertising market. That pressure has pushed many dot-coms toward creative sizes and shapes for their ad units in an effort to attract more traditional advertisers to the medium. Earlier this month, the Internet Advertising Bureau introduced new larger and interactive ads into its set of standards to replace overlooked "banners" and to encourage broader interest in Net advertising.

In response, Salon.com said this week that it is launching larger ad units. But the Internet magazine also plans to introduce a subscription-based, ad-free version. The Salon Premium paid service, scheduled to begin in April, also will let readers view exclusive content--with or without the advertising banners and pop-ups, depending on the individual's preference.

In February, The New York Times Co. signed a deal with NewsStand to publish an online version of its flagship newspaper that preserves the look and layout of the print edition, as well as a comparable subscription cost.

Other dot-coms are trying to put new value on their services as well. Kmart-backed BlueLight.com and financial site FreeEdgar have altered their services to charge a fee for additional usage or to limit the number of free items, for example. Earlier this month, the online venture of 232-year-old reference guide Encyclopedia Britannica said that it would switch to a subscription-based model in response to the recent downturn in the Internet industry.

But charging for content isn't a sure bet. Other companies have experimented with subscription models with little success. Two years ago, the Microsoft-owned online magazine Slate unlocked its content after nearly a year of experimenting with a subscription-only service. The slow growth of subscribers and a boom in online ad sales were the chief causes for the switch, the company said at the time.

Variety.com's updated site allows newcomers to sign up for a free 30-day trial. After the trial, the site costs $59 annually or $12.95 per month. An annual subscription to its weekly print edition costs $219 with access to the site for free, Shapiro said.

He added that the company is quietly testing the newly designed site for technical bugs and how well it handles traffic.

Mark Mooradian, a media analyst at Jupiter Media Metrix, called the subscription model "all the rage" with online publishers, which are re-evaluating the viability of charging fees for content after previously deciding that online news could be supported solely by advertising.

"Everybody is trying to create a profitable online venture," Mooradian said. "And if consumers aren't paying for (site content), then the advertising (they're selling) is viewed as far less valuable.

"It's not like they're making tons of money off of subscriptions. Advertisers just want to know there's a relationship there."