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Timewalls and other reader revenue experiments

“The model of a one-size-fits-all paywall can work at a national level, but for local sites, a more crafty approach will have to take hold.”

In the next year or so, I expect to see more experimentation around how to drive reader revenue — particularly as it relates to the local news space.

The model of a one-size-fits-all paywall can work at a national level, but for local sites, a more crafty approach will have to take hold.

While part of the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford this year, I spent time diving into different ideas around developing a conversion funnel and trying to better understand what makes readers pull out their credit card to support journalism. With a hard paywall being such a flashing red stoplight to users (not to mention an irritant), how can we ever hope to make someone feel good about subscribing?

In Boise, I am trying out an approach that asks for membership without cutting off public access to content. Instead, members are invited to receive a bundle of benefits — including a daily newsletter that includes stories that will be publicly posted tomorrow. While breaking news will still go live immediately, this “time wall” approach allows for members of our business-focused content to get a tangible perk while keeping the paywall down.

Another effort, Subscribe With Google, could give more local sites the ability to tap into the search giant’s pool of customers with pre-saved credit card information. Cutting down friction and making it easier for users to make a payment is a key way to help boost the number of paying subscribers. (Apple, are you listening?) It’s one of several components of the Google News Initiative that seem genuinely targeted at helping publishers of all types out of the spiral of recent years.

With guidance and research from the Membership Puzzle, Table Stakes, and other efforts, the local online ecosystem could be healthier in a year — with more reader revenue supporting strong quality journalism.

Don Day is publisher of BoiseDev.

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