Journalism Online, a company which seeks to help news organizations make money on the Web, said Thursday that more than 500 newspapers and magazines have agreed to join the venture.
Journalism Online, launched in April by three veteran US media executives, said publishers representing 176 dailies, 330 non-dailies and "leading global news sites" have signed letters of intent to become its affiliates.
"The websites of these publishers have more than 90 million monthly visitors from around the world," the New York-based company said in a statement.
It said a payment platform would go online in the fall which would allow subscribers to access paid content at the websites of the affiliates using a universal Journalism Online account.
"Affiliates will select their own approach to offering paid access, based on their respective brands, content and online readership," it said.
"Somebody could subscribe to one publication, others might want to get a package of content," co-founder Gordon Crovitz, a former publisher of The Wall Street Journal, told AFP.
"Some access will continue to be free and the most engaged users will be required to pay," he said.
Crovitz said the newspapers which have signed the letters of intent were "not all in the United States."
"They're throughout the Americas and Europe," he said.
Asked why Journalism Online was not releasing the names of the affiliates at this time, he said "some of our publications want to have separate releases.
"Some want to communicate to their readers closer to the time that they've determined their approach to the market," he said.
"This is an interim update on the measure of interest in the general topic of moving toward paid content on the Web," he said of Thursday's announcement, which comes several days after News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch outlined plans to begin charging readers of newspapers owned by his media empire.
Newspapers across the United States have been grappling with a steep plunge in print advertising revenue, steadily declining circulation and the migration of readers to free news online.
Two major dailies, the Rocky Mountain News of Denver, Colorado, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, shut down this year and several big newspaper groups have declared bankruptcy, including the Tribune Co., publisher of the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and other newspapers.
Among major US newspapers, only Murdoch's Wall Street Journal currently charges readers of its website although a number of other dailies, including The New York Times, have said they are considering doing so.
Media analysts have been engaged in a fierce debate over whether readers will be willing to pay for news online after becoming accustomed for so many years to getting what they want for free.
Steven Brill, the founder of Court TV and one of the three co-founders of Journalism Online, said the venture "has helped shift the debate over charging for online news from 'if' to 'when and how.'"
"And now large numbers of publishers have moved past that abstract debate and are rolling up their sleeves to figure out with us exactly what kind of package is right for them," he said in a statement.
Journalism Online said the models it is presenting to publishers would initially yield annual revenue targets per subscriber of 50 dollars to 100 dollars from the most engaged 10 percent of their websites? online visitors "with little diminution of overall page views or online ad revenue."
A website with one million monthly online visitors, for example, could expect to earn new revenues of five million dollars to 10 million dollars.
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