Technology is changing the viewing and browsing habits of customers at a fast pace, so news organizations and content owners always try to keep up with the recent developments and adapt their organizations to changing audience characteristics. With the advancement in digital technology and its impact on the media industry, several news organizations are opting for new ways to expand audience base and improve revenue. One of the strategies which at the forefront of the content monetization efforts of every digital content publisher is paywall. Media organizations, especially the print media, are also generating revenue online through paywalls. So what is a paywall?
What is a Paywall?
This is a feature used by media organizations on their online platforms to restrict access to the content of their publications to users who have paid to subscribe to the site. Most times you may have access to only the first paragraph of the story and then told to continue reading if you are a subscriber. If not, the reader will not have access to the rest of the story. Through the paywall system, only paid subscribers get access to all or part of a website. A number of newspapers have put their content behind a paywall which is the part of a website only paid subscribers can have access to. A digital paywall is a form of revenue generation source for some media organizations, though not very common. It was once considered unworkable but these days, charging readers for digital content has become part of digital sustainability strategies and the shift in focus to reader-supported revenue.
Of course, paywall comes with its own disadvantages one of which is that your organization might lose a lot of audience members who probably do not have the means to pay for the content or feel they have other options to view the same content on other platforms instead of paying for yours. However, even when you lose some customers you are most likely going to have improved revenue if you have good content. Improved revenue matters a lot but loss of audience affects visibility which is also very essential to news organizations.
There is need to understand your customers, their viewing/browsing habits and expectations before making a decision to implement a paywall for your business. This is why it is always advised to start with a low risk model before gradually working towards building up and optimization. It means you have to understand how paywall works and the various kinds of paywall so as to make informed decision on which to opt for.
Here are four basic types of paywalls which the mass media in Nigeria and other parts of the world can use to optimize revenue.
Types of Paywalls
Four major types of paywalls are available digital content publishers in today’s high-tech world.
The Soft Paywall
This is also called “Metered paywall”. It is a paywall system that allows viewers access to certain content before they are asked to subscribe to have full access to entire content. This kind of paywall gives users completely free access to a certain amount of content. The soft paywall is very often the best option for newspaper publishers because it arouses users’ curiosity by showing them some parts of the content and makes them want to pay to read the read of the content. The number of articles readers can have access to is usually refreshed on a monthly basis by news organization using this strategy. A soft paywall provides a balance by adding additional revenue without alienating the entire readership. This kind of paywall is noted for having higher reader retention than it is with harder options, probably for allowing readers access to some parts of the content.
The Hard Paywall
The hard paywall is a system which oftentimes, only displays an article title and a few introductory paragraphs before indicating that the reader should subscribe. This kind of paywall is more common among professional and financial authority content. It is also the riskiest options, because the publisher may lose a majority of its visibility and audience. For example, after The Times introduced its own hard paywall, its revenue increased but at the same time, its readership dropped significantly. The organization lost over 90% of its audience after the debut of its paywall, but its revenue record showed it was generating over $60 million a year of previously nonexistent revenue (Inplayer, 2020). This is largely due to the fact that the introduction of a hard paywall often results in an immediate loss of digital audience, but this might change over time as the news organization gradually cultivates a dedicated readership. The Wall Street Journal’s version of a hard paywall includes a range of selected free articles – it launched in 1997 and now has roughly 900,000 subscribers. This shows that there are news organizations succeeding with the paywall system as revenue source. There is also the system adopted by some publishers whereby they use a combination of the two strategies, giving users access to some free content, and setting up other premium content too.
This kind of paywall tends to provide the most security for digital content. This is due to the fact that the decision on what the user gets to see is made at the server stage before anything is actually sent to the browser. The challenge with this is that search engines will only index what can be seen by the browser so search engines can even miss your content. To get around this problem what you do is to make a small portion of content accessible to users either directly on the web page or hidden in meta tags. Meta tags are snippets of text that describe a page’s content. They are not seen on the page itself, but only appear in the page’s source code. Meta tag’s are basically little information content descriptors that help tell search engines what a web page is all about.
This is a system whereby the decision regarding access is made once the page has been accessed in the browser. This differs from server-side paywalls because whereas in the server-side paywall, the decision on what the user sees is made at the server stage before anything is actually sent to the browser, in the browser-side paywall this decision is made once the user accesses the browser. Here it is the browser application that determines whether access is allowed. One major disadvantage of this type of paywall is that since the content is actually there (just that it is hidden), some people can just block the paywall and gain access to the content. In this kind of paywall the content is available only that it is hidden, so anyone able to block the paywall goes ahead to read the content. Despite this disadvantage it is a popular paywall system used by news organizations.
The media world exists in a digital age with fast pace technological developments changing the viewing and browsing habits of audience members. With a diverse and complicated media environment, there is no single revenue strategy that will work for every organization. This means that media organizations should decide whether a paywall is right for them and the appropriate time to implement this revenue source successfully. This should be after understanding the nature and habit of their audience members other digital content users. The mass media in Nigeria can also leverage on this revenue source, that is, for those not already doing so. The editor of one of the leading British magazines, The Spectator Fraser Nelson once said “Paywalls are the only future for journalism: if the quality of writing is good enough … then people will pay”. News organizations in Nigeria opting to use the paywall system of revenue generation should understand that it thrives on quality content. So news organizations should know that launching a paywall is not a guaranteed source of revenue, particularly for small- and medium-sized publishers that have historically had the bulk of their digital content online for free. It is a decision that should be taken after careful consideration of its pros and cons, including the nature of audience members of a specific medium.