iPolitics.ca targets policy wonks — and their wallets

Amid the ongoing debate over paywalls and the prospects for iPad magazines, there was the intriguing launch this week  of iPolitics.ca — a political news site that demands people pay a subscription to access most of the content. (Note: you can currently get a free trial until February, 2011.)

David Silverberg and Mark Blevis have likened it to Politico.com, the Washington-focused news site that, as Michael Wolff in Vanity Fair put it, “fetishizes, the most boring subject in the world: the granular workings of government bureaucracy.”

But it actually reminds me of what State House News Service does in Massachusetts. I met the publication’s General Manager Craig Sandler at the Online News Association conference in September 2007. He told me how this private wire service has carved out a profitable niche for itself covering the minutiae of state legislation for lobbyists, law firms, trade associations, corporations, non-profits and, yes, journalists.

iPolitics looks to be doing something similar. Its navigation bar divides content by the major areas of government policy and segments topics further by House Committee and Senate Committee. Publisher James Baxter says its journalists will cover:

…the legislative, regulatory, political and policy developments that matter most to businesspeople, professionals, politicians, public servants, political activists, and the people who just enjoy all things political.

Like State House, it’s targeting the lobbyists, insiders and policy wonks who will pay for this type of coverage because it makes their job easier. Further — crucially — most subscribers will put the bill on their expense-accounts, making the prospect of surviving off subscription revenue much more  realistic. In this way, iPolitics is hoping to carve out a profitable subscription-based niche like business publications Wall Street Journal and Financial Times. In Canada, the flag-bearer for locked-down content is business and political news site AllNovaScotia.com.

Ultimately, I don’t think paywalls are a big part of journalism’s future. But I’m encouraged to see any site carve out a comfortable revenue stream any way they can in this tough transition. I’m looking forward to seeing how iPolitics.ca progresses.

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