Do paywalls actually work?

Estimated read time: 2 minutes

My local newspaper – after taking a break from paywalls for about 20 years – returned to a paywall in 2018. They call it a subscription model. Eighty-two bucks per year.

The general consensus of people commenting on my Facebook post on the topic seemed to be that they will not pay.

Will I? I don’t know, yet. I currently pay for two digital news subscriptions – the New York Times and the Washington Post. I first paid for the digital subscriptions in late January 2017.

U.S. President Donald Trump was hitting the news daily banning people, causing demonstrations at airports, etc. You likely know.

The Times and Post did a number of things:

They cover things blow by blow.

They add context – nonstop.

Trump tweets, which he does often. They quickly report that, which I don’t need to pay money for. I can just follow Trump on Twitter to see what he says. And I do that.

But I don’t always know what the background and context is to things Trump tweets. That’s what they add to the situation.

Side story: I also donate to Iowa Watch, a nonprofit where college journalists learn, report and publish investigative journalism. #journalismmatters is why I give there.

The Times and Post proved it to me and then I had to pay for it. And since I wanted the content and perceived that I couldn’t get it elsewhere I subscribed.

I follow them on Twitter and read many of their stories after clicking over. Does it make them money?

I seem to remember that when Trump tweeted how the Times was failing they quickly responded that they are having a great year. I believe it. I’m willingly pay for access and happily renewed. When the cost is broken down by amount of content read it’s pennies or less per piece of content.

From a content perspective, when does a subscription/paywall model make sense? From my observation:

When you already have a decent-sized audience.

When you are regularly publishing highly unique and sought-after content

When people are actually willing to pay for it

Let’s say every media company in the world has a pay wall and one media company does not and that media company covers a lot of the same things why wouldn’t people just go there to read it?

It also might not work when content is competing with digital marketing projects, as many digital marketing projects’ goals are to drive search engine traffic to educational content. That educational content alone isn’t supposed to make any money but the related services the company sells around that content is where the revenue comes from.

It all depends on what the business model is. Paywalls might work if we have highly unique content or they might not work if the content is actually really a lead generation driver for other revenue streams.

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