Why News Media Need Flexible Paywalls

By: Karina Fabian, Marketing Communications Specialist


Last week, my husband, Rob, came home excited. A friend discovered Rob’s company had been mentioned in a news article about startup spaceflight companies. The friend shot him a link, and he quickly pulled it up.

It was hidden behind a paywall. To make matters worse, the only way to cross the paywall and see the article was to pay for a $100 subscription. Needless to say, my husband quit the site with much grumbling. Not only was he disappointed, but the newspaper lost a chance to attract a customer.

Paywalls are becoming the norm for online media sites, and small wonder. They have been shown to provide steady revenue, encourage loyal subscribers, and enable journalists to concentrate on news rather than what brings in clicks. However, a single, expensive blockade of a paywall can discourage casual viewers, which hurts the publication in several ways.

Paywall opportunities you could be missing

Missed income opportunity for one-time, casual visitors: Rob would have gladly paid to view the article – but not $100. When so many people, from students to heads of major corporations, use the Internet for research, there are plenty of times when a visitor may be interested only in the information provided in a single article. The number of people with Internet access passed the 4 billion mark in 2018, and it’s estimated that over a quarter of Americans are online at least daily. A nominal fee for a single article could be a useful source of extra income. Incidentally, Rob has paid to download articles and photos from news site…when the price was appropriate for the item.

Missed opportunity for goodwill: Even understanding the philosophy behind paywalls (he is married to someone in the business, after all), my husband left the news site with bitter feelings. And he has a point – who wants to pay $100 to see what was probably a paragraph about his company? While studies show online users are willing to pay for quality content, a hands-out, pay-upfront attitude is off-putting, and that can be dangerous in a world where there are so many sources for the same news.

Missed opportunity to lure in future subscribers: I, too, have learned to disregard some websites in my own research, both for my day job and my other writing, because I know I can’t see the article, anyway. Unless you are a highly technical, single source for information – or you have such a reputation that you can demand immediate subscriptions – then allowing a certain number of free articles can show readers your worth and better entice them to subscribe. Alternately, showing a portion of the article before hiding the rest can entice readers to pay to read more.

Missed opportunities for reader sharing: Rob will probably ask his friend to download the article for him. However, he will not be able to share it with friends, customers and investors because he cannot predict who will come against the paywall. (It was for a large, but local, newspaper.) In such an interconnected world, social sharing represents a huge, no-hassle way for you to increase your publicity…but only if the content is sharable in the first place.

Paywalls are no longer an all-or-nothing consideration. Software such as what we provide at Newscycle can give you a multitude of choices for yourself and your readers. You can offer a certain number of free articles, hide parts of the article behind the paywall, offer different types of subscriptions, and more. With this flexibility, you can better encourage reader engagement, even of the casual reader whose friend passed on a link with exciting news.

About the Author: Karina Fabian has been writing about business, leadership & management, and software applications for over a decade. Before joining Newscycle, she wrote reviews of business software and services for Top Ten Reviews and Tom’s Guide, and about business practices and leadership for Business News Daily and Business.com. In addition to writing for Newscycle, she is a freelance writer and author of 16 books.

2019-02-04T15:15:40+00:00February 4th, 2019|Blog: Circulation|