For content creators to survive and grow, you need multiple revenue streams. Part of diversifying your sources of income includes charging readers for access to premium content. Let’s stop giving everything away for free!
This is NOT to say ALL your content must live behind a paywall. The challenge is to determine where to put the paywall. That is, the point at which payment is required in order to proceed.
Being too generous affects sales to your digital membership subscriptions, because giving too much away gratis undermines your paid membership’s value proposition.
Being too strict with the paywall rules has a negative effect on your digital marketing and monetization strategies. You’ll need to continue to offer some content for free so you can drive traffic to your digital properties, interaction with your social media sites, and engagement with your email campaigns.
What Are Your Paywall Options?
If you take one thing away from this article it should be this: make sure the rules about the location of your paywall are clearly communicated to and understood by your audience.
Some companies make the rules too hard for the consumer to understand. This frustrates the user. Non-paying customers get frustrated and leave before signing up. Paying customers can get confused about why they are paying when they might be able to get what they want for free.
While the Wall Street Journal does a lot of things right with their paid digital membership (I’m a loyal paying customer), clarifying paywall rules is one area they might improve on. Their paywall rules seem haphazard to the layperson. They do put a little grey key next to articles that are for subscribers only. But there doesn’t seem to be any logic behind what gets a key and what does not. And sometimes a non-subscriber gets to see an article even though a key is present. What is going on? (If you know, please post in comments!)
On the other hand, there are several companies who do a good job making their rules explicitly clear or at least very easy to deduce.
This model allows readers to consume a certain amount of content before hitting the paywall.
The New York Times allows readers to view 10 articles per month before requiring a credit card. There is a counter in the upper right hand of the browser that keeps track of your consumption throughout the month. Very clear.
If properly implemented, having a metered paywall has the benefit of allowing your content to be indexed by Google, so you aren’t foregoing SEO benefits (content behind the paywall may not be on Google’s radar screen depending on how you implement it).
This paywall rule runs the risk of being “gamed.” Even though NYT is cracking down on this, it is still possible to work around some of the rules, and read more than 10 articles. Using this model also foregoes the opportunity to earn a conversion in a “moment of truth.” Say, for example, I urgently need to read a piece of content on a certain subject. If I’m able to read it for free, I might do so and then never come back.
First Part of a Digital Series Free
Give your audience a taste, and they may come back for more.
If you have content that flows in a series, this may be the best model for you. It allows you to establish trust. The consumer feels the risk has been reduced, because they’ve had the chance to “try before they buy.”
New content is free, but archives require a membership. Vice versa could also work.
The Editorial publishes interviews with leading innovators. Interviews are free on their website for 60 days, then they go behind the paywall.
This rule is simple for consumers to understand and for you to implement. For this model to work, your archive needs to contain “evergreen” content that retains its value as time passes.
The nature and/or format of the content dictates if it is free or paid.
For example, Subscription Insider puts news and features in front of the paywall. But how-to guides and case studies are part of a paid digital membership.
Ad-supported versus ad-free
There is a set of customers who will pay for an ad-free experience. This model seems to be working for the digital movie industry – think of premium subscriptions to Spotify or Pandora that reduce or remove ads.
Wired magazine takes this approach with their digital properties.
This model might dovetail with some of the issues around mobile ad blocking. Some publishers (like Wired) won’t show you any content if you have ad blockers on. Perhaps there could be three tiers – you get nothing if you’re blocking ads, you get an ad-supported experience for free, or an ad-free experience for a subscription fee.
How Do You Decide Where the Paywall Goes?
There is no golden rule. You’ll need to determine the best model for your business based on the nature of your content and willingness of your audience to pay.
Here are a few steps you could take to make the right decision:
- Catalog your content and place it in logical groupings. Think about different ways to sort: by format (video, text-only, etc.), by content type (news, how-to, research, benchmarks, etc.), by length (long format, medium, short), by date, and/or by topic
- Monitor your customer behavior now. How are they engaging with content? What articles are driving traffic? You might want to leave this category of content in front of the paywall. What content is driving the most engagement (e.g., time on site)? You may be best serviced by placing this content behind a paywall.
- Test a few different paywall options qualitatively with consumer surveys
- Run experiments in the real world, such as A/B testing marketing campaigns
- Once you land on the model in general, continue to test the specifics. For example, if you land on a metered paywall, test 5, 10, 20 free articles and see which options leads to the most optimal balance between traffic, email signup, conversion, and retention.
What other models do you think have high merit? Post in the comments!
How The Sterling Woods Group Can Help
We help you monetize your digital content by launching a paid digital membership business for you. We are a one-stop shop that will:
- Create your paid digital membership strategy – including your paywall strategy
- Get you up and running on our platform quickly
- Rediscover “lost treasure” by repurposing your archives for you
- Execute your launch marketing campaigns