Following a trend in online publishing, The Sun today will begin requiring users of its Web site to register before gaining access to any editorial content on the site.
Visitors to Baltimoresun.com will be asked for their birth year, ZIP code and gender in a move the company said will help it better understand the demographics of users. That, in turn, will help in selling space to advertisers looking to reach targeted audiences, Tim Windsor, deputy general manager of the online division, said yesterday.
Users will not be charged a fee to register, Windsor said.
"To be able to break down the visitor by demographic segment is the kind of thing other media - radio and television - have a great knack for doing," he said. "As more and more advertisers are taking their advertising away from radio and television and taking it to interactive, we need to help them in reaching the audience they're trying to reach."
"From a reader's perspective, it makes it more likely the ads that they do see do have more relevance to them," he said.
The Sun has been gradually moving to a required-registration system. For the past two years, Web site visitors were asked, on a voluntary basis, to register for newsletters or to retrieve stories more than 2 days old.
Under the voluntary system, Baltimoresun.com, which gets an average of 1.2 million unique users per month, had 137,000 registered users, Windsor said. Nonregistered users will still be able to gain access to the site's classified advertising.
Web sites of other newspapers owned by Tribune Co., The Sun's parent corporation, have moved to a required-registration system, including the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Orlando Sentinel and The Hartford Courant. Most major newspapers, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, require registration to get into their Web sites.
"Registration has become pretty necessary for newspapers in order to really take full advantage of the Web opportunity," said Allen Weiner, research director of information technology research firm Gartner Inc.
"It allows them to keep track of who's on their Web site as well as understand some demographic information. That leads to the ability to better target information to these people and to offer advertisers a targeted opportunity," he said.
The biggest challenge is deciding how much of the content to make available without registration, Weiner said.
"You can't put the entire newspaper behind registration; that does not work," he said. "There are people who are casual users who come in from the outside area who want to find something who don't want to register and shouldn't have to."
On the other hand, he said, "Your ability to offer targeted ads to advertisers have helped every newspaper I know increase its ad revenues."