20200
P
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20100
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2070
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2050
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2040
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2020
I  S  M  2  0  2  0
7

Publishers move beyond the metered paywall

“While meters assume that each story’s contribution toward a user’s eventual subscription is in some sense the same, freemium and dynamic models let us think about how each story can best contribute to the business.”

As U.S. publishers have sought to grow their reader revenue, their metered paywalls have tightened considerably — from many allowing 10 or more articles per month several years ago to an average of five today. This change has largely been successful for publishers; a tighter paywall means more readers being asked to pay, and more readers being asked to pay in turn leads to an increased rate of subscriptions.

But we’ve reached the end of that trend. With many meters already at 5 or less, access simply can’t be tightened much more without turning away visitors who are essentially new to our sites and drastically decreasing traffic and ad revenues. Nor would it be wise to tighten access further: Subscription is an act of loyalty, and readers need some way of developing that loyalty and affinity for a publication before they’re likely to pay.

With that in mind, I predict a shift in how U.S. publishers implement their paywalls, with many beginning to operate a freemium-style model (already common in Europe) and others beginning to experiment with dynamic models that ask different readers to pay at different points in their journey. There are already examples: Gannett has experimented with certain content being for subscribers only, Business Insider has launched BI Prime, and even sites like ESPN have gated off certain types of content for subscribers only.

There’s a lot to be excited for in this shift. While meters assume that each story’s contribution toward a user’s eventual subscription is in some sense the same, freemium and dynamic models let us think about how each story can best contribute to the business — bringing in new readers, driving engagement, driving subscriptions, or deepening engagement among subscribers. This opens up new challenges across the board, from editorial to product to data science, and it’ll be a fascinating year as publishers experiment and adapt in order to align their model to their users’ behaviors.

As U.S. publishers have sought to grow their reader revenue, their metered paywalls have tightened considerably — from many allowing 10 or more articles per month several years ago to an average of five today. This change has largely been successful for publishers; a tighter paywall means more readers being asked to pay, and more readers being asked to pay in turn leads to an increased rate of subscriptions.

But we’ve reached the end of that trend. With many meters already at 5 or less, access simply can’t be tightened much more without turning away visitors who are essentially new to our sites and drastically decreasing traffic and ad revenues. Nor would it be wise to tighten access further: Subscription is an act of loyalty, and readers need some way of developing that loyalty and affinity for a publication before they’re likely to pay.

With that in mind, I predict a shift in how U.S. publishers implement their paywalls, with many beginning to operate a freemium-style model (already common in Europe) and others beginning to experiment with dynamic models that ask different readers to pay at different points in their journey. There are already examples: Gannett has experimented with certain content being for subscribers only, Business Insider has launched BI Prime, and even sites like ESPN have gated off certain types of content for subscribers only.

There’s a lot to be excited for in this shift. While meters assume that each story’s contribution toward a user’s eventual subscription is in some sense the same, freemium and dynamic models let us think about how each story can best contribute to the business — bringing in new readers, driving engagement, driving subscriptions, or deepening engagement among subscribers. This opens up new challenges across the board, from editorial to product to data science, and it’ll be a fascinating year as publishers experiment and adapt in order to align their model to their users’ behaviors.

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