Please subscribe to continue reading.
Nearly all of us have encountered that simple phrase at least once. And for most, it’s among the most frustrating things one could read. After finding what we thought was the perfect answer to our question on the search engine results page, we instead encountered a publisher reaching desperately for our wallet.
While we acknowledge that content monetization in today’s digital landscape is a challenge, especially for journalists, we have never been a fan of paywalls. To us, they commit a cardinal sin of content marketing. They interrupt the browsing experience, impeding and frustrating your user in the process.
Yet, for some reason, more and more publications seem prone to using them — ironically, we recently encountered a paywall on an article explaining why paywalls don’t work.
What’s especially baffling is that it’s not as though the low success rate of paywalls is an unknown quantity. Their core business model is fundamentally flawed, based on an overestimation of how valuable a website’s content actually is. And in most cases, the number of readers driven away by this tactic in no way justifies the trickle of revenue it might generate.
Consider the following:
- When The Times implemented mandatory registration in 2010, it lost nearly 90% of its online readership.
- Analyst Deloitte recently predicted that subscription fatigue may soon become a significant problem.
- Research for Nieman Lab found that even people who support paywalls rarely subscribe to more than one publication.
- Current Affairs suggests that the prevalence of paywalls in journalism has been a major contributing factor in the current epidemic of digital misinformation.
There are some websites that can get away with paywalls. The Harvard Business Review, for instance, consistently publishes high-value thought leadership content that cannot be found anywhere else. Yet even HBR doesn’t slam a hard paywall into the face of its audience, opting instead for a metered paywall:
- Visitors receive a limited number of articles per month for free.
- Registering for a free account slightly increases this number.
- Paying users can choose between digital, digital and print, or a premium plan that provides access to all regular content along with access to exclusive case studies.
Most websites are not HBR. They do not have the recognized authority, viewership, or expertise to support a business model like this. Rather than considering a subscription, their audience is far likelier to see what competing sites have to offer.
In short, for most publications, paywalls are akin to self-sabotage. There are other options for content monetization, such as premium content and affiliate marketing. And if, after reading all of this, you still think a paywall might be your best bet?
At least apply it even-handedly, rather than locking off your entire website.