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Page last updated at 00:36 GMT, Saturday, 7 May 2011 01:36 UK

Slovak media goes behind paywall

A screenshot of the paywall
Nine major news sites in Slovakia are now charging users for access

Slovakia has become the first country to erect a paywall that encompasses nearly all of its main media outlets.

Since 2 May users have been asked to pay a flat fee of €2.90 (£2.57) that entitles them to access to all nine news sites under the scheme.

The paywall is the brainchild of Tomas Bella, former editor of the country's leading broadsheet, SME.

He is now chief executive of Piano Media, the Bratislava-based consultancy that will orchestrate the operation.

Bella tried to initiate a paywall during his time at SME but the project failed.

His company will now control access to SME as well as the country's oldest daily Pravda, a business broadsheet, a sports daily and a weekly news magazine among others.

Altogether, nine of Slovakia's major news organisations have taken part in the premium-content payment service.

We are proving that it's just not true that people won't pay for content
Tomas Bella, Piano Media

Piano will take 30% from the revenue of the service while news organisations will be allocated profits in line with how much time visitors spend on their site.

Fight for survival

"We want to have freedom of information, we want to have as many sources as possible but some of the media cannot survive anymore with just the income from advertising," explained Bella as he outlined the motivations behind the project.

"We would rather have more sources of information rather than less even if some of them are paid."

Predictably, the project has come under fire from certain sections of the public who are not used to paying for online media.

Two Facebook groups have already been set up in opposition to the paywall, and another group has formed threatening to sue Piano Media for breaching freedom of information laws.

The paywall model follows that of cable TV, where one service provider controls access to various networks for a flat fee.

Bella believes the convenience of this system will be the key to its success. And, for the most part, it seems that the paywall has been well received.

"After two days we have reached our goals for the whole month," he said.

Language isolation

"We are proving that it's just not true that people won't pay for the content especially in countries like Slovakia where people are not used to paying for things with credit cards on the web."

A woman reads the New York Times online
The New York Times will begin charging online readers next year

While the system seems to be working in Slovakia, in bigger countries like the UK and US it still remains a pipe dream for publishers.

"I wouldn't be brave enough to try this in UK or USA but in small countries it should work," Bella acknowledged.

Slovakia has a population of only 5.7m, it is also the only country in which the Slovak language is universally spoken. This language isolation makes it easier for the market to be harnessed in this way.

Bella expects that between 0.8% and 1.5% of the population will subscribe to the service.

If the venture proves to be a success in Slovakia he hopes to expand it to other small countries in Europe.

Media organisations around the world have recently been experimenting with charging for content.

The New York Times, for example, is currently trying to initiate a paywall for the second time.

No doubt they will be among many watching this project roll out with interest.

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