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Motley Fool courts online subscribers

Users of the Internet investment site will soon be parted with their money. The Web veteran is set to charge for access to its discussion boards.

Online investment site and Web veteran The Motley Fool will begin charging for access to its discussion boards, according to a notice on its home page.

Beginning Feb. 14, Fool.com, as the site is known, will charge $4.95 a month, or $29.95 a year, for access to its message boards. The site will offer a free, read-only trial membership for a month to lure consumers accustomed to expressing their investment concerns for free. People who sign up before Feb. 14 will also get two years of membership for the price of one.

"Backed by the resources of membership dues, we will be able to maintain the excellent service you're accustomed to and make more new enhancements as well," read a notice on the Fool site.

The decision to add subscriptions to the Fool mirrors an ongoing trend among Web media companies. Hampered by an anemic advertising market, online media businesses have been searching for alternative sources of revenue, leading many to offer "premium" areas that charge monthly fees.

Web portal Yahoo has publicly stated its intention to boost premium service and other non-advertising revenue, though this portion of its business remains relatively small. Web magazine Salon.com, economic and financial data site Economy.com, and financial commentary site TheStreet.com, among others, have also emphasized their attempts to diversify revenue by adding subscription areas.

For many, offering subscriptions is a work in progress with an uncertain future. Some companies have shown decent results. Salon last week said it hit 35,000 online subscriptions, making up 30 percent of its total revenue. However, the online magazine recently posted a significant drop in third-quarter revenue.

As it has been for many of its Web media cousins, offsetting the collapse of the advertising market has been difficult for the Fool. The privately held company has undergone two rounds of layoffs in the past year and has scaled back its international presence.

The Alexandria, Va., company, founded in 1993 by brothers Tom and David Gardner, gained popular appeal from its presence on America Online. The company also publishes personal finance books and syndicated columns on the same subject.