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Variety to start charging for online access by early 2010

September 17, 2009 |  3:08 pm

Less than three years after opening up its website for free, Hollywood trade paper Variety is closing it back down to admit subscribers only.

Starting early next year, most content on Variety.com will be available only to those who subscribe to the Daily Variety newspaper or weekly Variety magazine, or those who pay for a digital subscription. Variety's iPhone application and other means of digital access will also cost money.

Publisher Brian Gott said executives are still considering whether some content will still be free or if the entire website will put behind a so-called pay wall. Discussions are also ongoing about whether online pricing will be lower than or equivalent to the print edition.

Variety.com was available only to subscribers until February of 2007, when the paper made access to its entire site free. Since the recession set in and online advertising rates began to decline, executives have been considering when and whether to go back to a paid strategy.

"Everyone thought then that if you got more traffic, you could sell more ads and make a ton of money, so we made a real effort to open up to consumers," Gott said. "We thought about our business strategy and decided we want to focus on serving the professional entertainment community."

Variety.com will continue to carry advertising and Gott said members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who don't already subscribe will likely receive a complimentary pass to access the site because advertising geared toward awards voters are such an important part of the paper's business.

As online advertising rates have failed to grow as many executives predicted, many newspapers have been considering charging for some or all of their digital content in an effort to boost revenue and drive more print subscriptions. News Corp is attempting to put together a consortium of newspapers that would charge a joint subscription rate, as is a start-up called Journalism Online.

Papers that cater to a business audience with unique content, such as Variety, are generally considered to have a better chance of making a pay system work than those that serve a general interest audience. News Corp.'s Wall Street Journal has been the most successful national newspaper to charge for its website.

The news of Variety's plans was first reported on Deadline.com. The site also reported that Variety's primary competitor, the Hollywood Reporter, is planning to cease publication of its daily print edition by the end of the year. However, a spokesperson for Nielsen, owner of the Reporter, said there are no such plans, as did the paper's editor, Elizabeth Guider.

"We are considering what will be the best way as a paper and a brand to go forward and what will be the mix between print, online and events," she said.

If the advertising market doesn't improve, both the Hollywood Reporter and Variety will likely be considering changes to their print publication schedule at the end of awards season (the Academy Awards are scheduled for March 7, 2010), according to people familiar with the situation.

-- Ben Fritz

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