Panelists say different paywall models all profitable


A four-panelist presentation Tuesday at the 82nd INMA World Congress gave publishers from around the world a chance to discuss digital subscription strategies back to back.

  • Jerry Harris, managing director of group newspapers and design products at News Limited, controls more than 140 newspapers in Australia. His company uses what he calls a “freemium” model, meaning a certain percentage of content is in front of the paywall. Editors decide which stories stay free and have the ability to change an article’s status when they feel it’s needed.

    The newspapers may offer more free content when traffic to their sites is slow; it did not want to become subscriber-only media to keep their casual readers, Harris said.

  • Paul Smurl, vice president/paid products of The New York Times, said readers were clear in wanting notice of what would change when the newspaper decided to establish a paywall for content.

    The New York Times has always allowed open access to its homepage. But when a paywall went up last year, non-subscribers were limited to reading 20 articles a month so as to not lose casual readers.

    Despite “blistering criticism” from media pundits, Smurl said, the paywall proved successful. The free reads limit was lowered in April to 10 articles as The New York Times cited more than 450,000 digital subscribers.

  • Deepak Shah, vice president of circulation and brand services at The Economist, said 42% of tablet readers regularly read in-depth articles. Knowing that, The Economist created a tablet-friendly version to complement its print edition.

    “When you have great content and a great audience who wants that content, you can charge a premium price for it,” Shah said.

    The adjustments are part of what Shah calls “Lean-Back 2.0,” the product of a transition from the original print product — you lean back in your chair to read it — to a lean-forward computer, and a return to tablets that have readers leaning back again.

    The Economist also reinvented its content plan. It aims to reach an audience during “lean forward” moments at work as well as “lean back” time at home.

    Covering both of these areas makes it easier to have readers pay for content, Shah said. The Economist takes advantage of this dual-content plan to reach readers at all times.

  • Lauren Coniglio, senior vice president of consumer development for CurtCo Robb Media, produces the luxury market magazine Robb Report. The multi-platform brand uses a paywall and offers a single price for all versions of their content.

    Robb Report has print and online versions of the magazine, as well as a version specifically for tablets.

    The company had some obstacles, such as the paywall being the last content item to load online. Users with quick reflexes clicked through to free content, Coniglio said.

    Despite minor issues, Robb Report has been successful in marrying advertisers into its digital products, Coniglio said. Digital initiatives have allowed Robb Report to respond to advertisers’ request for digital ads, and Coniglio said the publication now trains staff to handle digital advertising.
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