The Rebirth of Paywalls
Remember when newspaper and magazine publishers said they can't keep giving their content away for free so they started putting it behind paywalls? Then they got disappointed by the low number of subscribers, reversed course and paywalls began to come down.
It seems like a scene out of Back to the Future as paywalls are now apparently once again in vogue. Over the past week I've read multiple accounts of publishers deciding the totally ad-subsidized model just isn't going to cut it.
On the one hand, I think this is a smart move by newspapers. After all, how can they give their content away online and then expect anyone to pay for it in print or via a digital replica edition?
Ask yourself this question though: Do you know what your local paper's policy is? Do they have everything in front of the paywall? Is some content behind the paywall? If you're not in the newspaper business I'm willing to bet you have no idea what that local paper's policy is. Why? Because like so many other consumers, you've found an almost endless supply of free content, so as soon as you hit the paywall barrier you've clicked over to another site.
The real problem here isn't whether or not a paywall is in place; it's about the value proposition the publisher is offering.
Newspapers, like so many other types of publishers out there, need to find more ways to enrich their offerings. I'm not talking about adding videos and pictures. I'm talking about creating a more compelling experience for their customers. There are far too many "good enough" alternatives to prevent most of these publishers from succeeding, regardless of whether or not a paywall is in place.
Here's a suggestion: Why not create a federation of papers where a consumer's subscription grants them access to much more than just the content behind the local paper's paywall? There are plenty of aggregators out there offering similar services via replica editions, but why not offer an all-access pass to the web delivery of that content, not the replica? Your local paper's subscription suddenly becomes more valuable if it means you'll run into fewer of those paywall roadblocks. This also results in more cross-pollination as readers discover more content from other papers they may not have encountered before. That extends reach as well as adds to the number of ad impressions, increasing a separate revenue stream.
And let's not forget that replica is favored mostly by the older crowd. Offering an all-access pass that caters to the younger reader, who's more likely to want a standard web page rendering, not replica, is one way to start bringing the next generation to your brand.
Simply erecting a paywall around one paper's content isn't likely to be any more successful today than it was five years ago. Offering much broader content access, combining the strengths of multiple brands and removing the occasional paywall barrier is definitely an alternative worth testing.
Related story: Making Content Pay
Joe Wikert is Publishing President at Our Sunday Visitor (www.osv.com). Before joining OSV Joe was Director of Strategy and Business Development at Olive Software. Prior to Olive Software he was General Manager, Publisher, & Chair of the Tools of Change (TOC) conference at O’Reilly Media, Inc., where he managed each of the editorial groups at O’Reilly as well as the Microsoft Press team and the retail sales organization. Before joining O’Reilly Joe was Vice President and Executive Publisher at John Wiley & Sons, Inc., in their P/T division.