Many online Newspapers have tried various ways to monetize online content, with many turning to paywalls as a new source of income. Now, because everyone with a connection can get their news online, the excess of information meant that publishers found it harder to maintain any kind of competitive advantage. Legacy/Mainstream media houses have no choice but to adapt to the changing landscape around them.
Coming back to the original question, what is a paywall? Paywalls are a way for digital publishers to restrict access to their content and offer paid subscriptions to users.
Types of Paywalls
Hard paywalls: A hard paywall is when a publisher requires a user to subscribe before accessing any online content, it is one of the riskiest paywall options because the publisher stands to lose a majority of its audience and visibility. Case in point, The Times has a hard paywall, and while it may have increased its revenue, its traffic has decreased by 60%. In fact, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has gone on record to say that The Times has “made itself irrelevant”.
Still, there are use cases for a hard paywall: It can work if you target a specific niche and/or already dominate your market. Think of New Scientist, another website that has a hard paywall, with content that is distinctive enough to be able to make it work.
Soft paywalls: Also known as “metered paywalls”, these allow users to view a specific number of articles before asking them to subscribe for full access, with the quota refreshed every 30 days. This is the model most commonly employed by legacy media companies. Soft paywalls strike a good balance between adding additional revenue without overtly alienating the entire readership. Besides a relatively lower decline in pageviews, reader retention is also typically higher in comparison to hard paywalls.
Without going into all of the arguments again, the short version is this: the business of newspapers has never really been “the news business” (no matter how much they insist otherwise). It’s always been the community and attention business. And in the past they were able to command such attention and build a community around news because they didn’t have much competition. But the competitive landscape for community and attention has changed (massively) thanks to the internet. And putting up a paywall makes it worse.
What can newspapers do to save themselves? For most news sites, one possible saviour, getting readers to pay for online news, has not worked well. But Zimbabweans don’t like to pay. We have seen sites like The Source trying out Soft paywalls but they seem to have removed the paywall.
One local Technology News site tried to introduce paywalls but only three people subscribes to the service, of which all three worked for the company. Paywalls mostly backfired “because they put a barrier between the newspaper and the casual reader.”
Studying the New York Times after it instituted its paywall in 2011, they found that while the paper lost online visitors and ad revenue, it also saw a halt in the print subscription decline. In fact, the New York Times saved enough print subscription revenue to more than offset the lost online ad revenue.
Monetizing online content is hardly easy or straightforward. Banners, falling click through rates, and ad blocking are just a few things that are consuming into the revenue potential of digital publishers; not counting factors such as accessibility and competition.
One way that online sites may be able to attract more advertising, or even get more readers to pay for news, is to identify new areas of specialist coverage that people find invaluable. The Herald last month launched a business paper devoted to Business news called Business Weekly.
According to adpushup, paywalls can be great revenue strategy, with a couple of conditions: First, your publication is already somewhat established and has a sizeable readership, and second, you must also be convinced that at least a certain percentage of your readers will be willing to pay to access your content; failing these, the entire exercise will likely be a lesson in frustration.