Audience DevelopmentSubscriptions

Publisher paywall options are getting more sophisticated

Publisher Paywall Options
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After years of positive press, it looks like the shine is finally coming off publishing’s digital subscriptions revolution. From concerns around peak subscriptions to falling subscriber numbers at Netflix and the lightning failure of CNN+, the worry is that consumers have had enough. But rather than hitting the buffers, digital subscriptions are evolving through an array of publisher paywall options.

  • Locking up content has been an increasingly popular way for publishers to add reader revenue to their bottom line. But as consumers consider their subscription spending more seriously in the face of rising living costs, it’s no longer enough to throw up a hard paywall and hope for the best.
  • While acknowledging difficult market conditions, Jack Marshall addresses claims of peak subscriptions in the Toolkits newsletter. He says rather than subscriptions model failing, relatively few publishers have succeeded in piecing together subscription products that will be sustainable long-term.
  • He says that, instead, they have relied on heavy discounting, paid acquisition and other aggressive marketing tactics to grow. He believes:

The challenges they’re facing primarily reflect the quality and nature of their products and approaches rather than the viability of subscription models more generally.

Paywall selection
  • First on Marshall’s list of publisher subscription problems is the failure to deliver value or differentiation that will keep subscribers paying. But up next is poor paywall selection. He says, in the rush to roll out subscriptions, many publishers have adopted paywall solutions that are at odds to their subscription proposition.
  • Mark Stenberg of the Medialyte newsletter says there are dozens of variables publishers can tweak to fine-tune their subscription product. But, increasingly, the element most intensely debated is the type of paywall options publishers choose.
  • With that in mind, he has put together a taxonomy of paywalls to help publishers to figure out what kind of paywall will best suit their commercial objectives. He explains:

With such an array of options at their disposal, every publisher should be able to find — or develop — a kind of paywall that matches their content, readership and mission.

Paywall options

In his taxonomy, Stenberg lists examples of who uses the specific paywall options, why they use it and an assessment of the pros and cons of each particular approach.

Guilt paywall – A pop up or banner that prompts you to donate if you have found the content useful or interesting.

Registration wall – Provide your email address to get access to content.

Timewall – Content is free for a period, then moves behind the paywall; or content is paywalled, then becomes free after it has aged.

Freemium paywall – Some content is free, some (seen as premium) is behind the paywall.

Subject-specific paywall – Content in a specific vertical is free; or everything in a specific vertical is paywalled.

Metered paywall – Free access to a fixed number of articles before the paywall is raised.

Dynamic paywall – Applied algorithmically based on analysis of factors like content consumption or frequency of visits.

Hard paywall – No access until you have subscribed.

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