Project Piano Aims To Bundle Central European Paid News Sites

News Corp.’s ambitions of aggregating online newspapers may have been put on ice. But a new Slovak initiative is confident it can kickstart a bundled economy for paid newspaper sites in the same way Journalism Online’s Press+ platform is doing.

Project Piano is proposing charging €2.90 per month or €0.99 per week to access multiple news sites from across Slovakia and the Czech Republic, director TomáÅ¡ Bella tells paidContent:UK: “We basically want to do for newspapers online what cable companies did for TVs.”

The project is a joint venture between Prague-based media consultancy NextBig and continental PPC ad targeting house Etarget.

Planning a March 2011 launch, Piano today has no news suppliers on board, though Bella – formerly editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper site and now NextBig’s owner – says: “We have been talking to seven biggest publishers and broadcasters in Slovakia since April and so far all of them are still negotiating with us. We will most probably have sites that cover about 50 to 70 percent of the Slovak online population in the system at the moment of the launch.

“We have already negotiated with some ISPs that they will include the payment for Piano into their monthly bills – so even if you log via the newspaper website, you are given option to be billed via your internet provider.” Bella claims preliminary agreements with Slovanet and Swan, the two smallest of Slovaki’s big five ispS.

Joining up several different industries and competing actors in this way sounds like a considerable undertaking, even without considering any possible market-fixing effect, which may have deterred similar initiatives elsewhere, and Bella’s claims are grand; it’s not yet clear whether publishers can put aside their rivalries to work together. But Piano may be aided by the relative smallness of the region.

Participants are being asked to sign up for six months. Customers’ payments would be split between services through which subscribers are billed (ie. ISPs) and the participants themselves based on the amount of time users spend on the various members’ sites, though the split offered isn’t clear. Piano aims to take between 15 and 29 percent.

Piano is proposing pages on participants’ sites would be topped by an “information bar” inviting sign-up and payment. It is also offering sites only selective paid features, rather than a wall for entire sites.

Piano is citing a survey conducted by the Czech Republic’s Mediaresearch showing that consumers would prefer a site-wide subscription to either individual site payments or micropayments. According to the research, 29 percent of readers would probably pay for site-wide subscription, while seven percent definitely would. appears most likely to sign up, while business weekly and broadcaster are also interested. Bella reckons Czech publishers will come aboard during Q2 or Q3 next year, with ambitions of a later western Europe if things go well, but dependent on finding further angel funding.