to change in August; Dallas-style paywall delayed

The Providence Journal will take a first step toward charging readers online next month, but the new system won’t look like the one at the Dallas Morning News – yet.

The Journal will roll out a “premium-content-light” system in August, A.H. Belo executive Jim Moroney told investors during a conference call Thursday, without providing further details.

But a full-scale paywall like the Morning News’ will not be put in place until the Projo finishes installing a new content-management system.

“It’s what [The Journal] can do easily without going the full boat that Dallas did, because of this technology issue,” Moroney said.

“Until that gets in place, it really doesn’t make sense for [The Journal or sister paper The Press-Enterprise] to take this step, because they’d have to go through a tremendous amount of work to put it in place, only to turn around do it all over again,” he said.

The paper is also expected to debut a redesigned website and a corporate rebranding soon. The Journal’s executive editor, Thomas Heslin, directed questions about the changes to the paper’s publisher, Howard Sutton. Sutton did not immediately respond to an e-mail requesting comment.

Moroney said the company is pleased with the results so far at the Morning News, which began charging digital readers March 8. Over 73,000 consumers have linked their print and online subscriptions, he said. Unique visitors to the paper’s website have declined about 15% and page views have fallen about 15%.

The Journal’s executives began talking about a paywall publicly more than a year and a half ago. The most recent details came in a report last October that described a sort of “Diet Projo” system, with short summaries of longer print stories posted online. But it’s unclear whether that is still the plan.

A. H. Belo posted a net loss of $6.8 million, or 32 cents a share, for the three months ended June 30, compared with a net loss of $171,000, or a penny a share, a year earlier. Revenue dropped 6% to $114.5 million, with advertising sales down 9%. That was partly offset by a $5.4 million property sale.

There was some good news for The Journal in the earnings report. A.H. Belo said the Projo’s advertising sales didn’t fall by as large a percentage as at its other two papers, the Morning News and The Press-Enterprise, though circulation revenue fell at The Journal and The Press-Enterprise. The company also credited a 7% increase in printing and distribution revenue “primarily to increases … in Providence.”

During the call, A.H. Belo CEO Robert Decherd declined to forecast how the publisher’s sales will be going forward.

“Like all of our peer companies, we hope that revenues are going to stabilize during the second half of the year, but … things have been very uneven insofar as revenue patterns are concerned,” he said. The company benefits from having a healthy balance sheet and dominance in its major markets, he added.

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