The publishing industry has been struggling to figure out how to stay afloat since print advertisers have migrated en masse over the past several years to the online space. Online advertising dollars are the source of the money needed to keep online publications running and throughout the past decade, most online publishers (including media giants) have moved from paid subscription models where content is only offered behind a paywall to a freely available model in an attempt to boost page views and advertisers’ investments.
Interestingly, a couple of publications have been experimenting with a return to the paywall model they abandoned years ago. The Times of London and the Sunday Times are examples of such a publication.
According to a report from Nielsen, The Times websites attracted over 3.09 million U.K. visitors each month during the second quarter of 2010 when all content was available for free. A paywall was put in place at the beginning of the third quarter of 2010. During that period, paywall visitors (which includes people who are using a free trial, print subscribers who automatically get free online access, and people who paid specifically to access the online content behind the paywall) amounted to just 362,000 visitors per month, but overall traffic to The Times websites dropped to just 1.78 million (which includes the paywall visitors).
That means the number of visitors to The Times websites nearly dropped in half after the paywall was put in place. Furthermore, after the paywall was put in place, just 20% of visitors accessed the information behind that paywall.
The Times actually views these results positively saying that the paywall customers are statistically more affluent, more targeted, and more engaged (3rd quarter results showed a 42% increase in page views per person –17– compared to 2nd quarter results — 12). For The Times the paywall audience can drive a premium rate from advertisers who want to connect with those consumers. Top it off with a subscription fee that many of those paywall customers are paying, and The Times is optimistic about how charging consumers a fee to access some or all of a site’s content will affect their business in the long-term.
Where do you stand on the free content vs. paid subscription content debate? Branded content is a bit different since it’s usually a marketing tool, but what about premium branded content? Where do you think that fits in? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.
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