Le Monde to Start Charging for Premium Online Subscription Service

For Le Monde S. A., France's newspaper of record, the challenge this year will be generating and managing paid subscriptions to lemonde.fr, a site that claims 100,000 registered users and between 5 million and 6 million unique monthly visitors.

The Paris-based company will introduce a premium online subscription service by the end of April that includes alerts, special newsletters, personalization features and thematic archive offerings.

“Up until now, only the archives and PDF versions of the paper were paid for,” said Jorge Pedraza, managing director at Le Monde Interactif.

Attempts to garner online revenue will not stop there. Le Monde will soon begin to market special archive sponsorships. And it is likely to adopt the frequency-by-reach model that is now emerging.

One thing Le Monde will not do in its quest for online revenue is emulate its British peers in their steady crawl toward a paid subscription model.

“We will continue to offer the 'news of the moment' free to our very large audience,” Pedraza said. “Additional services will generally be part of the premium service.

“We believe that this large audience is an important asset for advertisers, driving subscriptions to the paper, driving subscriptions to the premium offering [and] marketing awareness, especially among a younger audience,” he said.

Obviously, that is a philosophy not shared by papers across the English Channel.

Sometime this spring, Financial Times will each year charge users up to 100 pounds, or $143, for access to its FT.com site. Similarly, London's Times newspaper will soon charge casual users of thetimes.co.uk on their monthly cell phone bill.

In the United States, The Wall Street Journal is the only broadsheet to follow a paid subscription model for access to its WSJ.com service.

Pressure from the parent company plays a big part in forcing news media Web sites to charge readers and advertisers alike for the true value of online content. Lemonde.fr is not immune from this.

“The temptation for this is obviously strong,” Pedraza said. “The senior management of our parent company understands this is a critical strategic investment and that there is a great risk to their core business in not responding appropriately to the disruptive electronic communication technologies, be they PC, Internet terminals or wireless hand-helds.”

So, publishers are taking to innovative advertising packages and creative formats to drum up business from advertisements.

Integrated campaigns on multiple formats are working for Le Monde. Flash pop-up advertisements, in particular, are popular with advertisers targeting young, tech-savvy audiences.

Le Monde Interactif has advertisers including Microsoft Corp., Vivendi Universal, banks, automakers and most major French corporations that advertise in the newspaper as well.

Revenue last year for Le Monde was $263 million. Le Monde Interactif's revenue is not disclosed.

Pedraza is aware that lemonde.fr's premium subscription services will debut in a make-or-break year for online publishers.

“Financially stable operations will stay in business and begin to show improvement as advertising returns,” he said. “A number of players will fold as investors give up on the business model.”

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