WashingtonPost.com Extends Free Content Window

In a bid to increase traffic and reap more online advertising revenues, WashingtonPost.com will allow articles to remain free on the site for 60 days before they go behind the subscribers-only wall. Previously, stories were only accessible for 14 days.

The switch is an acknowledgement of the role of blogs, search and RSS, which have all worked to keep news stories in the public eye for longer periods of time. Company executive point to the news operation’s recent scoop regarding secret CIA prisons in foreign countries — a story that has continued to generate links and buzz for weeks after its debut.

“For us to take that article offline after 14 days really does us a disservice,” Jim Brady, executive editor of the site, told ClickZ News.

These new blog and search links tend to drive traffic directly to stories, rather than to the front page of the site, contributing to the importance of individual articles. About half the traffic at WashingtonPost.com now comes through these “side doors,” according to Brady.

“Whether they come in from the side door or in the front door, we’re just glad they are in the house,” Brady said, adding traffic patterns have been changing over the past few years.

The move comes at a time when newspapers are seeing print subscriptions dip while demand for online advertising continues to rise. The desire to capitalize on that trend by increasing inventory is so strong that some sites, such as the Houston Chronicle’s Chron.com and The Toronto Star’s TheStar.com, have recently removed registration barriers that may have decreased traffic. Running counter to that trend are players like the New York Times, which put more content behind a subscription wall.

Brady says the WashingtonPost.com will be carefully watching traffic and revenues generated by opening up the archives.

“We wanted to see how much more traffic we could drive and compare that to what we were making via the archives [subscriptions],” he said. “It’s really an experiment in a lot of ways.”

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