How Foreign Affairs Evolved Its Paywall Strategy & Added 40K in Online Subscriptions
Paywalls have proven to be a powerful tool for driving online revenue. Amidst online advertising challenges such as ad fraud and ad blocking, many publishers have diversified their online revenue streams and upped their focus on subscriptions. Foreign Affairs, a publication for foreign policy professionals, unveiled its paywall alongside the launch of its website in 2009. Today, the publisher boasts over 200,000 in circulation and reached that in part by adding over added over 40,000 subscribers from its paywall in 2016. This year, the publication anticipates an additional 54,000 subscribers will be added through the paywall.
Although Foreign Affairs has found success monetizing online readers, its first paywall iteration was a haphazard effort at best, explained Anique Halliday, senior product manager at Foreign Affairs, during a recent Publishing Executive webinar on paywall strategies. “It was arbitrary, it was ambiguous, and it was confusing to readers,” said Halliday.
Editors decided what articles had a hard or soft paywall, meaning the paywall was implemented inconsistently, enabling readers to circumvent it. Print articles that were published online would automatically have a hard paywall, which Halliday said created a false value proposition, which suggested print articles were worth paying for while digital-first articles were not. The biggest problem with the complex paywall system was that Foreign Affairs was not training its audience to expect to pay for content, said Halliday.
These complications led to a site redesign in 2014 in which the paywall strategy was completely revamped. Foreign Affairs adopted a standard metered paywall approach where readers were able to view a limited number of articles before all content went behind the paywall. In the following video, Halliday explains how that paywall was rolled out, how it impacted revenue and audience growth, and what lessons Foreign Affairs learned as it iterated the solution.
Related story: To Grow Online Subscriptions, Get Out of the Reader's Way