The San Jose Mercury News, Silicon Valley's hometown paper and one of the first newspapers on the Web through its Mercury Center site, has finally capitulated to the trend toward free newspapers on the Web. After more than 3 years of charging subscribers to Mercury Center, the publishers announced on May 17 that they would drop subscription charges. They will continue to charge $1 per article for access to archives back to 1985 in the NewsLibrary section of Mercury Center (http://www.mercurycenter.com). They also continue to charge $7.95 a month for the NewsHound custom profile system, which uses an intelligent software agent to retrieve specific stories of interest. For contractual reasons, they will continue to register users who access the comics section, though there will be no charges.
Mercury Center began 5 years ago as an online service with America Online in 1993, followed by direct publication on the Web in January 1995. In April 1995, the publishers introduced pricing of $4.95 a month. Rumors circulate that the introduction caused usage then to drop from the 100,000 range to under 10,000. As of mid-May, the publishers said the Mercury Center had tens of thousands of online readers.
A rise in online circulation should put the Mercury Center in a position to garner more advertising revenues, particularly with its established focus on high-tech developments, which appeals to Web readers and advertisers. The publishers have announced that they plan to significantly expand their Web offerings on Mercury Center in the coming months.
Side note: Knight-Ridder, Inc., owner of the San Jose Mercury News, recently announced it would move its corporate headquarters from Miami to the San Jose area.