how publishers and newspapers in particular can get their readers to pay for news through digital channels can be helped with advances in paywall technology
It has been interesting to note that the Times has launched a standalone Tumblr blog for free to view opinion pieces from their star columnists. This raises again the debate about how publishers and newspapers in particular can get their readers to pay for news content through digital channels.
The commercial move might be viewed as a further deviation from News International’s £2 a week digital paywall for Times and Sunday Times content. The paywall had been taken down over the jubilee weekend and plans are afoot to remove it on key dates during the upcoming London Olympics. There has also been a major growth in social networks, particularly Twitter and Facebook, since News International experimented with their paywall. For example, over two million people follow journalists who work for the Times, which it could be argued is the best prospect pool and marketing voice a publisher could have. However, publishers need to devise a plan of how to monetise this in a controlled way.
All newspaper publishers, it seems, have been keeping a close eye on these developments as any notable success in increasing the subscriber base would inevitably see them follow suit. According to the Guardian the Times has about 120,000 digital subscribers, with 114,000 people subscribing to the Sunday Times, according to figures published in February. The Guardian reported that Dominic Carter, commercial director at News International, had said in May that the Times and Sunday Times’ had 297,000 total print and digital subscribers.
The initial implementation of paywalls by various major digital publishers was rather patchy. Subscribers invariably had access to content, and homepages were being used as a sales tool, along with marketing and promotional activity. However, there was a major commercial failing in that sampling was limited if a customer was thinking about taking out a subscription. Additionally, publishers invariably removed the presence of their content on distribution portals such as Google Search meaning discoverability for potential customers was restricted. Users would have to know the brands and come directly to them if they wanted to subscribe.
Innovations in technology
Publishers have become increasingly innovative with their paywall technology which now allows them to perforate the paywall in a controlled manner. For instance, staff writers can tweet a link to their article and their followers can sample that article for a limited period of time. This gives publishers a strong promotional reach and the ability to reach an audience that might not come directly to them. This could be an example of where social networks can benefit increased sales in content.
In addition to this, with paywall technology publishers are able to create preview pages for their premium content, enticing users to pay for content. This enables them to present a limited version of the article if you reach the article via a distribution channel that they support such as Google search. The publisher could then offer a subscription to view the whole article, or to view any other articles on the website.
Business development opportunity
Publishers need to devise a plan of how to monetise this in a controlled way but they can, of course, drop the paywall for certain channels (for special occasions and events) or for the entire site (as I mentioned earlier the paywall had been taken down over the jubilee weekend) in order to improve traffic and to build a registered pipeline of prospects. As part of business development publishers are now able to provide customer ads to promote their brands and the subscriptions which they are offering. They can also insist that customers coming to view content through these avenues have to register before viewing, thus allowing them to build a prospects list that they can follow up on as a business development opportunity in the future.
The advances in paywall technology might not mean that users will be more inclined to pay for their content but it will help publishing houses with any marketing inducements.