Leaky Media Paywalls!

In paywall age, free content remains king for newspaper sites by Ariel Stulberg.

From the post:

THE MAJORITY OF AMERICA’S largest newspapers continue to employ digital subscription strategies that prioritize traffic, ad revenues, and promotion—despite the ongoing collapse of display ad rates.

Even as they’ve added paying Web subscribers by the hundreds of thousands, daily newspapers have decisively rejected an all-in approach featuring “hard” website paywalls that mimic their print business models. Instead, most are employing either “leaky” paywalls with unlimited “side doors” for non-subscribers or no paywalls at all, according to a CJR analysis of the nation’s 25 most-visited daily newspaper sites.

There was little agreement on a paywall strategy and certainly no consensus solution to the problem of the “ideal” newspaper paywall. The paywalled news sites, 15 in total, diverged widely in the cost of their subscriptions, the number of free articles dispensed, the specific combination of “side door” exceptions employed, and whether they operated via one flagship website or two—one free and one for subscribers.

Despite what seems like widespread optimism about the prospect of digital subscriptions buttressing the industry, a full 10 sites, 40 percent of the outlets we looked at, focused on ad revenue exclusively, eschewing paywalls.

News executives who spoke with CJR expressed confidence in their company’s approach and cited their favorite figures to back it up. But without examining internal data, the best way to gauge whether they were right will be to check back in a few years and see whether each is sticking with their approach. No matter the format, the prospect of news organizations relying on paywalls as primary drivers of revenue still seems remote.
… (emphasis in original)

As you might imagine, Stulberg finds the evidence is mixed on the use of paywalls, non-use of paywalls and leaky paywalls in between. Each approach has some advocates but there’s not enough accessible and representative data to reach any hard conclusions.

Still, the post provides you with a handy list of “leaky paywalls” to enjoy as part of your media experience. Just in time for the weekend as well.

Enjoy!

PS: Drop by the Donate page for the Columbia Journalism Review to support quality writing on journalism.

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