Salon to Charge for News, Political Coverage

Web publisher Salon.com will charge for some of the most sought-after content on its site — political and news stories — following a major policy shift in effect this week.

Editor and chairman David Talbot said in a letter to subscribers on Monday that the change — which makes the two Salon content areas part of its Premium service — is needed to offset slipping advertising revenue.

“As I’ve written before, we cannot operate on advertising revenue alone, which, during the current ad slump, pays for less than half of our budget,” Talbot said.

Users must pay $30 annually to subscribe to Salon’s Premium service. Salon said last week that it has about 20,000 monthly subscriptions to Salon Premium and two, smaller fee-based programs.

The move by San Francisco-based Salon is the second effort in less than a week designed to help the site better monteize its traffic. On Thursday, the company rolled out a new, full-screen interstitial ad format, with Sprint PCS becoming the first advertiser to use the product.

Rolling its news and political coverage into its Premium offerings also represents a major change for the Web publisher, which had previously positioned its subscription-based service as a way for users to avoid receiving banner and pop-up ads. (Salon’s Premium service also offered some exclusive, niche-interest content — such as erotic art and photography, and excerpts from Tracy Quan’s Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl.)

But now, the new move marks the first time that Salon is moving major, mainstream content areas into the subscription areas.

Talbot said in his missive that the change had elicited criticism from some readers, who argued that the areas should remain free due to the seriousness of the current situation and the importance of disseminating information.

But he added that Salon had “committed substantial resources to covering the war between America and Islamic terrorism” — including sending a correspondent to the Middle East — which justified requiring fees.

Additionally, Talbot also couched Salon’s new program as a way for readers to do their part in keeping “the independent press alive.”

“While media outlets like CNN, Fox and MSNBC dish out the predictable mix of flag-waving kitsch, White House spin and wire copy, Salon breaks the hard-hitting stories and runs the complete range of commentary … that the American public desperately needs as we educate ourselves about the coming conflict,” he said. “If Salon’s unvarnished journalism and fearless commentary from multiple perspectives are important to you, I urge you to sign up today for Salon Premium so you will not miss one article.”

Spokespeople from Salon did not return requests for comment by press time.

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