Online paywalls increase; metered models gain acceptance.
The ‘information wants to be free’ mantra was put to a serious test in 2011, as more media sites erected subscription paywalls around their Web content. The New York Times led the pack, announcing in March a digital subscription plan starting at $15 a month. The pay meter provided online readers with access to 20 articles a month before facing a subscription roadblock. By July, some pundits were declaring the NYT paywall a success.
The metered approach quickly gained favor among other publishers, some of which claimed more success than others. The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, Concord (NH) Monitor and TulsaWorld.com actually saw page views increase after erecting paywalls. The Financial Times, which has long charged for online content, disclosed in November that it expects subscription and single-issue revenues to overtake ad revenues this year, a milestone in its history.
In December, Sun-Times Media launched a metered paywall for the Chicago Sun-Times and its sister publications. "The time is long overdue for us to begin charging for our content," Sun-Times Media Chairman Jeremy Halbreich told the Sun-Times.
Increasingly sophisticated paywall platforms made it easier for publishers to experiment with different paid content options. In February, Google announced One Pass, a paid content platform that throughout the year worked its way onto a handful of publisher websites, including Rust Communications’ Southeast Missourian and Media General’s Richmond (Va.) Times Dispatch. Journalism Online’s Press+ platform also made inroads, including metered subscription models at 23 community sites owned by MediaNews Group. In June, Press+ was purchased by RR Donnelly.
Critics see paywalls as a short-term (and shortsighted) play that will chase away much-needed visitors who can find similar content elsewhere. But it’s likely that all publishers will need some type of reader revenue strategy to compensate for declining print subscriptions and advertising revenues. If nothing else, paywalls represent an important evolutionary step in publishers’ attempts to change the nature of their relationship with an audience that’s used to getting digital content for free.
The challenge is striking the right balance of free and paid content on your site. A few best practices are emerging. While premium publishing brands are losing the battle for mass-produced, inexpensive content, they seem to be making progress in convincing at least some portion of their audience that quality content is worth paying for.
Back to 2011: 5 game-changing trends