Washington Post’s Sheikholeslami: ‘Year Of Experimentation’ For Paid Mobile App

Like so many of its peers, The Washington Post (NYSE: WPO) is trying to find the right notes to play in just the right order when it comes to getting paid for digital content. Unfortunately, John Philip Sousa isn’t around to write the march. Instead, the Post is mixing it up: launching a paid iPhone app that hit iTunes Wednesday but keeping an open, ad-supported WAP site; not charging for access at washingtonpost.com but considering options for premium offers; charging $1.99 for the first year of that iPhone app — and $240 for a year of a digital edition delivered by Kindle or other e-readers. Goli Sheikholeslami, the Post‘s vice president and general manager of digital operations, spoke with paidContent about the paper’s strategy when it comes to mobile business models, developing for the iPad and tablets, e-readers and more. She was GM of washingtonpost.com before the online and print operations merged on Jan. 1. (The interview took place before WaPo tech columnist Rob Pegorano panned the app on his blog, suggesting users save the $1.99 for now. I’ll let you know whether I think it’s worth the money. Meanwhile, some screen grabs.) Some highlights:
Online vs. Mobile: “We do treat them as separate platforms, I think that the users’ expectations are different on the two platforms and we want to make sure we build for the mobile platform. We’re focused on the fact that it’s a different screen size, people are usually sort of in transit, on the go, also, on the iPhone in the app store, the expectation from customers to pay for digital content is there as well. It also gives us a place where we can experiment. We do think that readers and users will pay for content that’s unique and customized, valuable experiences.” That doesn’t mean WaPo CEO Don Graham was off key when he said the paper wouldn’t charge for washingtonpost.com — but the discussion is far from over. “We don’t have plans now to charge for the website because we think that the opportunity from a business perspective is greater if we keep it as an open experience for users. But our thinking will evolve and learn as we try out these new things.”
Later, when I asked how Graham’s comments fit with Publisher Katharine Weymouth’s saying on various occasions that the decision hadn’t been made yet, Sheikholeslami replied: “We have no immediate plans to put a metered system or a pure pay wall in front of our website but that doesn