Just two days ago in the UK the Telegraph launched a metered paywall, which would require subscription once users exceed a 10 article allowance, following the introduction of the model for international-only traffic last year.
The Telegraph’s model was described as having a “New York Times-style ‘meter’”, and was launched in the same week as the New York Times’s paywall reaches two years in operation – two years today, in fact.
So in this week’s podcast we speak to general manager for core digital products at the New York Times Paul Smurl about how the environment in 2011 at launch differs to that today, when it comes to launching an online payment model. We also discuss the impact of the metered model on the rest of the industry with Robert Picard, director of research at the Reuters Institute and Tim Cain, head of research and insight at the Association of Online Publishers.
Paul Smurl, general manager for core digital products, New York Times
Robert Picard, director of research at the Reuters Institute, at the University of Oxford
Tim Cain, head of research and insight, Association of Online Publishers
While digital subscriptions may not appeal to every publisher, many news outlets have launched paywalls or more metered-models in recent years as the industry looks for new revenue streams for online journalism.
In this week’s podcast we hear from those behind established paywalls at The Times, The New York Times and Piano Media (which operates national paywalls in Slovakia, Slovenia and Poland), to hear about their approaches and pointers for other news outlets considering online pay models.
The podcast hears about the importance of pay model clarity, conversations with the audience, flexibility to alter the pay model or even lift the wall in certain cases and already having a community of loyal readers. The interviewees also highlight the importance of considering models based on your own content and audience, rather than trying to find a one-size-fits-all solution.
We speak to:
Lucia Adams, digital development editor, the Times
Jim Roberts, assistant managing editor, The New York Times
The latest results reported by the New York Times Company showed a total of more than 500,ooo paid digital subscribers. This was an increase on the 454,000 paying subscribers recorded a year after NYT.com launched its online subscriptions model, which refers to subscribers across the New York Times and International Herald Tribune.
And this is not including the 700,ooo print subscribers who also gain digital access to the company’s content, according to New York Times Company vice chairman Michael Golden.
In fact a report published last month, as covered by AllThingsD, predicted that the New York Times “will have more digital subscribers than print subs within a couple of years”.
So when Golden took to the stage at the World Editors Forum today for a session on ‘how some newspaper companies are succeeding’, his presentation was unsurprisingly focused on digital subscriptions.
We were laughed at we were scorned … after the launch here’s what we’re seeing now, people are saying it’s a great success
He said the introduction of digital subs at the New York Times has boosted staff morale: it has “changed the way people walk around the building”, he said.
So for others keen to also build a digital subscription model he offered these five steps:
Be very clear on what you’re doing
Golden said the company spent much time studying this, and what their overall goals were, such as”to develop a significant revenue source because our business model demanded it”.
The aim was also to build a “one-to-one digital relationship with consumers and protect digital advertising”.
Align the entire organisation around it
It “cannot be an editorial project alone”, he said.
Remember readers know what they want
Audiences are indicating every day what they do or do not want to read, and on what platform they like to consume it.
He added that the launch itself is “incredibly important” within this: it will either “create momentum or lack momentum” he said.
Think and act like a digital company
And finally, continue
He spoke about the ways publishers can work to continue to increase subscriptions, such as the Times’s ‘Most Engaged User’ initiative which rewarded the most engaged subscribers.
Its move from a “gateway” of 20 articles a month to 10 articles a month also helped it see “another boost in subscriptions”, he added.
Piano Media has announced that it is raising the price of the national paywall it established in Slovakia last year, a move its CEO Tomas Bella says in a release had been the plan for once the platform was “accepted”.
In Slovakia the price will go up from 1 March, the release adds, from €.99 to €1.39 a week, €2.90 to €3.90 a month and from €29 to €39 for a year.
With steady revenue and reader growth established, Piano’s pricing structure moves into its next development phase after gaining broad acceptance by Slovakia’s digital readers.
In the release Bella adds: “The number of our subscribers is still going up. More and more people are telling us that they were against the concept at first but now have gotten used to the idea and already feel comfortable with paying.”
The company confirmed in the release that it “is in negotiations with publishers in 11 European countries and has plans to launch in more European markets by the end of 2012″.
One of the speakers was Frederic Filloux, general manager of ePresse Consortium, the “digital kiosk” or newsstand from ePresse which launched in July this year after just six months of development by a two-man team (the catalogue section of the iPhone app is shown in the screenshot on the left).
Filloux gave an interesting insight into the model and the online challenges of the industry in which it performs.
He said the kiosk has a “news DNA”, leaving the leisure magazine market to other outlets.
“It is highly selective. It had just eight publishers at start, and might have grown to 12 in January. It is capturing an 85 per cent reach, the market is quite concentrated.”
I spoke to him more about the platform after the session, when he also discussed how ePresse would be working with Google’s One Pass system
During the session the speakers also called on editors to experiment with numerous revenue streams, and find their unique market.
Filloux told the conference “the company that will survive will be the one able to have not two but 15 different revenue streams and be able to test, experiment and find out what will be most valuable … It will have to test a lot and try many formulas.”
Fellow speaker Madhav Chinnappa, head of strategic partnerships for Google News, added that “the solution is going to be unique and individual”.
In my personal opinion the most successful paywall has probably been the Financial Times, but they have a unique set of circumstances. It took them years to develop their paywall, trying different things. They spent a lot of effort around customer data. They come from unique position. I don’t know any human who pays for a subscription to the FT, it’s companies, so that’s going to be different from most newspapers in the audience.
The Sydney Morning Herald has reported that News Limited (the Australian arm of News Corporation) will officially announce its paywall for the Australian this week, after it outlined plans for a ‘freemium’ subscription model for its online content back in June.
It had already been announced that the model will offer access to some content for free, but others will require payment.
According to the SMH report the site will charge $2.95 a week to access all content across the website and its phone and tablet apps.
It will be the first paywall for a general newspaper in Australia, an experiment that has achieved mixed success overseas by newspapers and magazines including The New York Times, the Financial Times and The Economist.
It will follow the approach of News Corp stablemate The Wall Street Journal. Some stories will be able to be read for free while others will need a subscription to be read, most likely to be its analysis and specialised sections.
“Don’t be afraid” – this was just one of many messages given by a panel of publishers at the World Editors Forum today, who shared their experiences of erecting “paywalls” or what came to be termed by the panel as “leaky walls”.
The panel featured three news outlets which have all established paid-content systems in their own ways, although the general approach appeared to be the same, leave holes in the “paywall”.
Dirk Nolde, managing editor of Berliner Morgenpost Online in Germany spoke first, outlining the site’s paid-content model which is free for print subscribers, or 4.90 euros a month. Only some content is placed behind the wall, including local news and sports, which are charged on different models, such as by day or month etc. “Make the assets paid”, he said.
The site also offers a “first-click-free”, such as via Google or social media, which works three times a day. ” We are trying to be leaky with the paywall,” he added.
The results so far is that we have 11,000 digital subscribers which includes print subscribers who can register for free. We thought it would be horrifying but we were wrong, visits went up.
According to his statistics in December 2009, the year in which the “paywall” was set up, visits stood at 2.4 million. In September 2010 this had risen to 3.3 million and last month, in September 2011 it was at 5.1 million.
It didn’t really hurt us, we were able to tell the readers and our users there’s quality behind this paywall.
But he said the site is looking to move to a more metered model.
We will give away more stuff, use a softer approach. It is about being able to accommodate users with the fact we think you should pay for content. That’s our mission.
Fellow panel member, Matus Kostolny, editor-in-chief of SME in Slovakia, discussed how they joined up to the Piano project, a group paywall used by nine news outlets in Slovakia.
The paywall was erected in May this year. On SME it costs 2.90 euros a month or 29 euros a year and, just like Berliner Morgenpost Online, is free to print subscribers. Also similarly only some content is behind “the wall”, such as opinion and political news, the wall is removed for big stories and SME is also considering a more metered wall.
But he added that is is important to remember that “behind stories are real human beings doing real jobs that are worth paying for”.
Public opinion is one of the things we want to influence and we believe it’s so important people pay for it, but if we don’t pursuade enough people then we’ll lose our inflence. We are thinking of different ways to change the structure of paid content and still think that in the end the journalism is worth to pay for and we will pursuade our readers to do it.
Revenue for the first month across all nine sites was 40,000 euros, “which was successful story for our market”, he added.
We were afraid we would lose readers but in the end we didn’t lose anybody, there is an increase of five per cent in unique viitors. We were afraid we would lose readers in locked sections but not losing them so much.
Later he added that one of the biggest lessons is not to be afraid to experiment.
The final speaker was assistant managing editor of digital content at the New York Times, Jim Roberts, who shared some interesting details on the Times’ model, which we reported on here. He told the conference the Times’ pay model is “based on number of principles”.
We try to strike a very delicate balance betwee keeping as open as possible to news junkies, but also really wanted to instill a sense of value for our loyalists who continue to consume quality journalism.
We wanted our regular users to pay. They came to our site and still do, frequently. We felt they understood the sense of value and they would want to pay for it as many of them had done for their print subscription.
Concluding the panel the speakers were asked to share their main lessons. Dirk Nolde gave three which nicely rounded off the session:
Communication, communication, communication – you have to tell users what you are doing
This is no supermarket. We’re not selling everything, they don’t have to pay for everything. You have to give things away to accomodate readers.
Produce online content that’s really worthy of being paid for. That convinces readers and makes them say “wow that was good”.