Don’t you just hate it when you come across a fascinating article, you click to read it but are met with a paywall? You scroll up and down a little but there’s no escaping it unless you start paying the monthly subscription. It’s not a site that you read regularly, certainly not daily, so you leave disappointed.
Despite this irritating user experience, paywalls still exist and continue to grow as a way of monetizing content.
The Times was told it was crazy to use a paywall when it employed this model in 2010. The New York Times followed suit in 2011 with a more metered approach. Seeing these competitors still running strong, Bloomberg decided it was time to disappear behind a wall in 2018. Even open publishing platform Medium is frustrating users by locking them out.
You can understand publishers wanting to make their content profitable, after all they’ve got businesses to run. From a customer point of view, full access to just those 4 websites would cost you a chunky $973.88 per year.
The majority of newspapers are charging users for access, with 69% now employing a paywall or subscription to a portion, or all, of its website.
The answer is quite simple - to make money - but does it really work if you can get your news for free elsewhere?
The Times and The Sunday Times interestingly reported its most successful year in 2018 since its paywall inception in 2010, citing a 20% year on year growth. So it would appear people are becoming more accepting of paywalls.
“When we first introduced subscriptions people thought we were crazy… if you look back on it, it seems very logical,” explains Alan Hunter, Times Head of Digital in the Media Voices podcast.
Of course, traditionally we were all happy to pay for newspapers or magazines. And why should the media be giving its content away for free?
“Journalism costs money and you have to pay for it one way or another.” continues Hunter.
Traditional news outlets need to find new ways to make money, especially in an ever-increasing digital world. Millennials don’t buy newspapers and magazines anymore, not when everything is available in the palm of your hand.
This is nothing new and has been a noticeable problem in the industry since the turn of the century. Tech is replacing print, newspapers and journalism need to adapt or quickly die.
In the US, newspaper circulation has reached its lowest level since 1940 and continues to plunge 8%-9% a year.
No one is buying newspapers, and to add to the problem, advertising is dying as well with 30% of people using ad blockers while the rest of us just ignore digital advertising.
With this squeeze on newspaper revenue and readership, many have turned to paywalls and paid access as the obvious solution to the problem.
Other benefits are heralded by successful paywall platforms. Particularly the subscription models that ensure repeat business and readers returning for more content every day.
Users are almost guaranteed to be heading back in the hope to find exclusive stories, insights, and information not published elsewhere.
Paywall subscriptions are growing outside of journalism too. No longer do we watch TV and suffer through adverts. Services like Netflix and Spotify are capturing the younger generations with personalized content from behind paywalls.
So what’s the problem?
Businesses need to make content profitable.
If it is good enough, people will pay.
Simple supply and demand.
“I hate those” my other half exclaimed when I mentioned writing an article about paywalls.
It’s why a lot of publishers are still afraid of using them, as frustrating and alienating readers could have a disastrous effect on web traffic.
Paywalls are a funny concept if you are not a content creator. In SEO strategy, that’s keeping Google happy in layman's terms, there are two important factors:
- High-quality content - e.g. Informative engaging articles
- Well designed user experience - A website users enjoy browsing
Now put a paywall in the way and it results in the exact opposite. People land on a website and the majority immediately leave because they can’t get what they are looking for. It seems counter-intuitive.
We’ve all been there and become incredibly frustrated. Finding an interesting story on social media, clicking through and reading the introduction. Then you are suddenly locked out by the paywall.
It’s infuriating, especially as the way we have consumed content has completely changed. We no longer get everything from one source, we flick between websites, apps and social media to consume our daily fill.
It would be excruciatingly costly to have subscriptions to every place we consume news now. The point is, paywalls suck if you don’t read from the same source every single day.
In the past, you’d simply buy your chosen newspaper when you want. I still pick up various papers when I’m in the mood. Sometimes a sports paper other times a financial paper, I don’t want to be subscribed to both in order to read them every now and then.
Paywalls only fit a small percentage of people, the people that would religiously buy the same newspaper day in, day out.
The rest of us are currently left out in the cold, I don’t want to pay The Times £312 dollars a year to read Matthew Syed’s weekly article, and I can’t buy the paper because I travel abroad regularly. I’ve tried, it was a horrible, expensive experience.
“The subscription model does not support informing a broad audience. It’s a huge issue for society and democracy.” explains Buzzfeed’s Jonah Peretti at the D.Live conference.
People now turn to unreliable social media sites like Facebook and Twitter for news which dramatically undercut paywalls with free access to feeds.
These content platforms are coming under increased scrutiny, especially with the growing concerns about fake news appearing to sway election results in the US and the UK.
Clearly, paywalls are an effective revenue generator but it freezes out the majority of the population from high-quality reliable journalism.
Most people struggle to afford a regular subscription to the leading publishers. Free personalized content feeds seem to be slowing dominating society and distorting what is real and what is fake.
Another innovative solution is perhaps round the corner then? Using blockchain and cryptocurrency solutions can create a fairer market for content creators, advertisers and consumers. The BLTV token allows for transparent fairly valued payments to the right people. Instead of a disconnected experience between consumers, publishers and advertisers, BLTV enables users to be rewarded for their attention. Advertisers can once again gain the engagement of their target market by directly rewarding interacting consumers.
This new monetization system also benefits content creators. Ad revenue is distributed to network and news channels with marketers using blockchain records to measure performance.
Users too enjoy a more personalized content experience without unbeneficial adverts or frustrating paywalls. Consumers are able to spend reward tokens on premium content and even use tokens to vote and fund their favorite creations.