De Telegraaf asks every reader to subscribe in “soft paywall” initiative

By Grzegorz Piechota


Oxford, United Kingdom


Since mid-April, every visitor to news sites of Mediahuis has seen a call to subscribe if they wish to support independent journalism. The experiment is code-named “soft paywall.” 

De Telegraaf, a popular newspaper in Amsterdam, launched its paywall in 2018. The brand enjoys 390,000 subscribers, of which 16% are digital-only.

Originally, it featured a hybrid of a freemium and a metered model, but it’s freemium-only now.

  • The challenge of soft paywalls is that many visitors are not exposed to subscription offers, and some might not be even aware of a paywall.

  • According to Piano, 67% of visitors to an average news subscription site do so only once a month, so in practice they never get stopped by meter paywalls and rarely hit hard-paywalled premium articles.

  • On average, paywalls in the United States and Europe stop only about 13% of visitors, on average, and this rate very much influences how many become subscribers (less than 1% of those exposed to offers).

The 2020 pandemic inspired a slight change in the Mediahuis model: to expose all visitors to the offers, even those who visit just once or for free articles.

“The COVID-19 crisis underlined the importance of reliable information and independent journalism within the society,” said Riske Betten, digital manager at Mediahuis Nederland, in an interview with INMA. “We therefore thought it would be appropriate to state how much passion we fulfill this role with and that subscribers are of key to sustain independent journalism.”

On April 16, De Telegraaf and five regional brands of Mediahuis Nederland added an editorially driven message below all free articles. The tactic reminds the calls to action by the membership-focused Guardian in the UK, although the offer here still is a subscription and not a donation.

The message doesn’t talk about usual benefits such as apps or podcasts but the newspaper’s purpose and its journalism:

“Since you’re here ... As the world is in the grip of the coronavirus, the need for information is increasing. Reliable information, accessible and clearly laid out. Separating facts from rumours. The Telegraaf’s editorial team of more than 200 journalists works day and night to inform you as well as possible about the developments at home and abroad. We explain what the coronavirus crisis means for you. We tell you what actions the government is taking, but also where the shoe pinches. We capture the mood of the nation, write about heroes in our care, show common sense, or lack thereof. We report hope, small and large, for better times. The subscription starts from 1.04 euro per week.”

A week later, the Mediahuis Nederland brands introduced dismissible floor ads displayed to all visitors of the home pages of its Web sites and apps.

Again, the message is very much editorially driven. An example: “However uncertain these times may be, we continue to do our work. De Telegraaf’s editorial team of more than 200 journalists works day and night to inform you as well as possible about the developments at home and abroad …”

Riske’s team is experimenting with different wording.

  • The one displayed on the desktop Web lays out the hard benefits of the subscription: “As a subscriber to De Telegraaf, you have full access to our best videos, podcasts, and articles, and you contribute to independent journalism.”

  • Another one, displayed on mobile phones, mentions that “thousands have already subscribed.”

The floor ads are displayed on the readers’ first visit on a particular day.

The first results are very encouraging: De Telegraaf seems to have extended its COVID bump in subscriptions through the end of April.

  • In the first week of the experiment, it observed a boost in conversions from in-article ads. Based on my calculations, the average share for the in-article ad conversions from April 17 to April 30 was 14%.

  • In the second week, the conversions from home page floor ads spiked. The average share for the floor ad conversions from April 24 to April 30 was 21%.

  • In general, the new ads worked brilliantly. Their combined share in all conversions was 24% with a maximum of 45% on one day.

Have a story to share? Or a challenge that puzzles you? Talk to your INMA peers. E-mail:

Banner photo courtesy of William Iven from Pixabay.

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