Cover Story: Making Content Pay
Content behind paywall: Archives, full digital editions
Rate structure: Paywall in three forms: single-month pass for $3.95; annual, all-access pass for $2.50 per month/$29.99 per year; two-year online subscription at $1.87 per month/$22.44 per year
Wenner Media put most of its flagship publication, Rolling Stone, behind a paywall in April. Unlike most other consumer magazine publishers, Wenner never offered full, free access to its content online, so it is able to boast unprecedented access to both full issues and rich archival material for those willing to pay. "For us, it wasn't a matter of having content available in an ad-supported basis and then putting it behind a paywall," says Steven Schwartz, chief digital editor at Wenner Media. "We never made the archives available online before, and this is creating an asset that has value."
Archival material is curated by editors who pore through 43-plus years' worth of music and cultural history to offer interesting content to subscribers. "We may feature the best of Hunter S. Thompson or a John Lennon interview by Jan Wenner," Schwartz says. "People can peruse whatever our editors have selected or browse archives by year, decade … [utilizing] cover thumbnails or keyword search."
Despite its past reluctance to offer entire issues for free online, Schwartz says Wenner believes free and paid content are not mutually exclusive and each can support the other. "The rich and robust focus on the free site is the latest music and pop culture news that is coming out with a Rolling Stone angle and perspective, as well as things like reviews that people want and expect in an ad-supported website," he says. Such material, designed to successfully compete with comparable offerings found all over the Web, is designed to drive people to the Rolling Stone website and "complement what's going on in the magazine." A major site redesign launched concurrently and built around social media functionality serves the same purpose.