The Associated Press will begin charging for some news with an application for Apple’s iPad tablet device, making the co-operative the largest news organisation to challenge the assumption that consumers will not pay for general stories.

The AP’s plans for a paid subscription application, disclosed on Friday by Tom Curley, its chief executive, came as it unveiled a unit to help member newspapers keep up with technology, from eReaders to smartphones.

It follows news that The New York Times plans to introduce a charge for online access in 2011, and comments last week that reuters.com would introduce paid services this year.

To date, digital pay models have been the preserve of more specialised sites such as ft.com and wsj.com.

Consumers were more willing to pay for content on tablet devices than on the web, Jane Seagrave, AP chief revenue officer, said.

The AP has charged for some smartphone applications such as its style book, but its core news application, which has been downloaded by 3.5m people since June 2008, has been free.

“That will change over time,” she said.

It means an organisation that describes itself as the backbone of thousands of newspapers and broadcasters will increasingly play up its own brand.

“This is not primarily to develop direct-to-consumer products, but that’s one of the things we will be doing,” Ms Seagrave said, cautioning that the AP planned not to compete with members but to incorporate their content and develop “custom white label” digital products for their use.

The unit, called AP Gateway, hopes to pool the time-consuming and costly process of developing new digital products and business models for the AP’s network of local media affiliates, which are struggling to do so alone.

“For publishers, [2010] likely is the defining moment,” Mr Curley told the Colorado Press Association’s annual meeting.

“We must seize this opportunity to reinvigorate our business models as well as our journalism.”

He said three years of anthropological research had convinced the AP that publishers must differentiate their content, not add to “information overload”.

Ms Seagrave would not discuss how the AP and Apple would share revenues or customer information, two sticking points in the iPad maker’s negotiations with publishers.

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