Publishers are evolving… or are they?
It’s 2009, Rupert Murdoch is bleating on about how Google are a bunch of thieves for stealing his content and publishers are starting to think about paywalls as an option for protecting their content.
Fast forward to 2013 and for many, the great paywall experiment has been relatively successful. The paywall is growing up because it has no choice. Publishing is a hustle these days, and those willing to try and fail will end up ahead. When the Times rolled out its “leaky paywall” in 2011 — the Times prefers to talk of meters rather than paywalls — many critics lambasted the approach. But now, the in-between approach of the Times has been adopted far and wide, from venerable outlets like the Times and People magazine to local papers like the Dallas Morning News, as publishers are moving beyond the extremists on both sides of the paywall debate. The choice, it turns out, is not free vs. paid. It is figuring out how to generate the dual revenue stream that news organizations have always relied on and remain flexible in achieving that goal.
The Times has established itself as a leader in the in-between camp of the paywall debate. While publications like The Wall Street Journal are hardliners — it puts nearly all its content behind a paywall with the hefty cost of $260 per year – others are showing more flexibility — and complementing access to content with modern versions of the Sport Illustrated football phone. Time Inc.’s People, for instance, started a new subscription model in September called People VIP. For $200 a year, People VIP subscribers get full access to the magazine online as well as editorially selected gift boxes that will be mailed out three times a year. This month, for example, People VIPs got a scarf inspired by a garment that Rihanna wore, a trendy bracelet, and a note from the editors why each product was selected. People VIPs are also entered to win passes to movie premiers and even a chance to go to the Oscars as a guest of the magazine.
For readers who don’t need all the extra bells and whistles, there’s still the standard $100 yearly magazine or digital subscription. For $130, readers get both the magazine and a full online subscription. The most economical People subscription is $10 a year to access limited People coverage on its app.
As mentioned, there have been some hit harder by the paywall concept: The Dallas Morning News, which made news recently for tearing down its old paywall, is also betting that added perks around a loyalty program will prove profitable.
Locally we’ve only seen Business Day go behind a paywall and there’s currently no context to whether it has been successful or not.
The trick for publishers when it comes to paywalls: there’s no need to be extreme, rather allow occasional readers their content and the die-hard fans will pay to enjoy your content.