People's Daily will soon charge for the digital version of the newspaper. From Friday, readers of the Communist Party's main print mouthpiece will pay 24 yuan (HK$27.25) a month, or 198 yuan a year, for access to the e-newspaper. Subscribers to the print edition, which costs 298 yuan a year, must pay again. Xu Dandan, head of the people.com.cn's information department, told a national online media forum in November that the levy would not lead to major profit growth, but would prevent piracy and improve quality. Since 1997, People's Daily has offered readers free access to both its website and e-paper. The website will remain free. For decades, government departments have been the major subscribers to party media such as People's Daily. Every year, departments at all levels hold official meetings to mobilise subordinate offices to pay for subscriptions to People's Daily, Qiushi (Seeking Truth) and local party publications. Media insiders said People's Daily's decision would lead to a number of party newspapers charging for electronic content. 'The Anhui Daily announced it would charge for its digital version from December 23. I've heard many provincial or municipal party media will do likewise,' said Xu Wei, a Guangdong-based reporter who works for a party newspaper. 'I actually see no need for People's Daily to charge for its electronic paper. They get enough money from government and state-owned company subscriptions, and commercial advertising,' Xu said. 'Maybe the reason the newspaper plans to charge is because they never need to worry about subscribers boycotting them over the fee.' Renmin University professor Yu Guoming said the new charge for the e-paper was good for the newspaper and its subscribers. 'Distribution costs to remote areas are usually high for central party media. Governments in rural areas could pay for the e-paper instead of the print edition. So they can read the news quicker and cheaper.' Newspaper vendors said the new charge would make no difference to them, as they rarely sold any copies. 'Ordinary people like independent newspapers. Very few people come to me and buy party newspapers for themselves. They are full of party news and propaganda,' a vendor in Shenzhen said.