Business news site pioneers paywall on Czech internet

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The news website iHned.cz will next week become a pioneer of paid content on the Czech internet. The site, affiliated with the business daily Hospodářské noviny, will put up a paywall on Monday restricting free access to 10 stories a month. But will it manage to find subscribers on a market where users are used to free news?

iHned.cz will become the first major Czech news website to ask its readers to pay. Users will be able to access up to 10 free stories a month, plus some stories picked up from news agencies.

But they will have to pay 299 crowns, or some 15 US dollars, for unlimited access to iHned.cz content. Michaela Beladová is responsible for overseeing the change.

“We want to follow the rest of the world as news websites in the US, the UK, Germany and even Slovakia now have paywalls around their content. We believe that not all information should be free of charge.

“It’s some Czech thing that people are used to free content but valuable information and premium content should be paid for. We need resources to make out content even better, and to stay on top of the business news for our readers.”

With some 800,000 monthly visits, iHned.cz is part of the Economia publishing house, owned by the Czech coal and energy tycoon Zdeněk Balaka. His portfolio includes the business newspaper of record, Hospodářské noviny, the weeklies Respekt and Ekonom, and other publications.

iHned.cz faces an environment where many people are not willing to reach into their pockets to access online content. In Slovakia, all major publishers came together three years ago to successfully launch a joint payment system.

Photo: Ladislav Bába
But in the Czech Republic, some of the biggest players are opposed to such plans, most notably seznam.cz, the largest Czech search engine which also carries the popular news site novinky.cz. David Slížek is the editor of Lupa.cz, a leading Czech media website.

“Seznam’s long-term strategy goes against paid content, and it instead relies on the advertising model. It makes sense because given its size, Seznam is able to generate big revenues from ads. But if such a strong player is opposed to paid content, the other players will find it very difficult to put their contents behind paywalls.”

David Slížek believes specialized business publications with unique content have a better chance of success than general news websites. But in the long run, he says, paid content is the way to go for all media outlets.

“I think that at one point it will become commonplace to pay for much of online content. But I think path to it will be very long, and will be lined with a number of corpses of publishing houses which will not cope with the transformation.”