Restricting access to content has become a cornerstone strategy for publishers trying to diversify their earnings mix and add reader revenue to their bottom line. However, as consumers consider their subscription spending more carefully in the face of rising living costs, publisher paywall strategies have had to evolve.
Every paywall has the ultimate goal of converting drive-by readers into paying customers and a recent What’s New In Publishing post outlined the various ways a range of publishers are using paywalls to achieve their reader revenue goals. It identified four types of publisher paywall, each working in a different way.
- Hard – complete content block unless paying
- Metered – content blocked after limit reached
- Freemium – mix of open access and gated content
- Dynamic – access dependent on user profile
It is clear from the WNIP article that these various flavors of paywall are being used differently by publishers at varying stages of their reader revenue journey.
The New York Times, with over 9 million paying subscribers, is often cited as the exemplar for paywall strategy. The company often fixes its success to the quality of its content, but paywall technology plays a part too.
The NYT’s dynamic paywall uses a ‘causal machine learning’ model called the Dynamic Meter to set personalized limits to make the paywall smarter. It adjusts content metering to allow content discovery, but also maximise conversion rates. Data Scientist Rohit Supekar said:
This strategy allows us the flexibility to tune the level of friction based on our business goals and at the same time, smartly target users so that we can obtain a lift in engagement and conversion rate.
Some publishers take a very unrelenting approach to paywall strategy, typically, organisations creating content that could be considered unique or specialist.
The Financial Times leads the pack in hard paywall deployment; as soon as a non-subscriber lands on the financial news site they are met with a holding page listing the publication’s various subscriber offers. With more than 1 million digital subscribers, the FT clearly doesn’t need to offer content tasters – people who need tightly focused financial news will subscribe.
With a niche focus on global current affairs, The Economist has also seen subscription success come from a hard lock on its content. However, the news weekly does allow visitors to get a sense of its content from the first few paragraphs of any article. But to continue reading, users must register and ultimately subscribe.
Putting a hard lock on more general content is not an option and publishers in the lifestyle space are more likely to take on a mixed approach to content access.
WNIP highlight’s Elle’s freemium strategy of publishing both open access and gated content. A large percentage of the content on the Elle site is free to access, supporting content discovery and delivering traffic to advertisers.
The Premium content, available only to subscribers, is clearly flagged to differentiate it from free content and lessen user frustration. On accessing subscriber-only content, free users are presented with a clear call to action offering seasonal deals to tempt users to sign up.