Surprise: Paywalls Cause Massive Falls In Number Of Visitors - And Boost Competitors

from the no,-really? dept

As Techdirt has been pointing out for years, newspaper paywalls make no sense. By stopping people from reading your stories unless they have a subscription, you diminish your influence in the media world, drastically reduce the number of readers and thus make it much harder to generate revenue from them. Paywalls are also a gift to your competitors, as this story in the Guardian indicates:
Mirror Group Digital enjoyed a surge in daily browsers of nearly 20% last month, after [Rupert Murdoch's newspaper] the Sun introduced its website paywall.

...

[The UK publishing group] Trinity Mirror launched an aggressive campaign to lure digital Sun website users seeking to continue reading free online content, following the introduction of a paywall for the News UK title on 1 August.

The introduction of paywalls for Times and Sunday Times content in 2010 led to a 90% drop in traffic. Online metrics firm SimilarWeb has estimated Sun+ monthly site visits were down by more than 60% in August.
This really isn't rocket science: if you make it harder to read your stories, your competitors would be foolish not to take advantage of this fact to encourage people to move across and read their freely-available reporting instead. Some may call this a race to the bottom, and it is as far as how much you can charge is concerned -- that's just basic economics in the digital world. But that doesn't mean there's a race to the bottom in terms of the quality of the journalism. Indeed, skimping there would be unwise, since it would allow competitors to match you on price and beat you on quality.

The challenge is to use a larger readership to pay for that journalism by earning revenue in other ways -- advertising is currently one of the most popular approaches, but others are possible. However, introducing paywalls makes it much harder to generate money, since the online readership is much smaller -- as the experiences of Murdoch's Times, Sunday Times and the Sun all demonstrate. The subscription revenue produced by the paywall rarely compensates for this loss. It will be interesting to see whether Rupert Murdoch sticks with the paywalled approach, or is forced to remove them in order to compete with flourishing titles like those from Trinity Mirror.

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Filed Under: news, paywalls


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  1. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 24 Sep 2013 @ 3:29pm

    Re: Paywalls

    It's a matter of time before all newspapers figure out the one reality of the Internet: people want free, and they'll ignore you if you don't offer free stuff


    I don't think this is actually true as a blanket statement. I can think of a lot of things I pay for that I could get free (including Techdirt.)

    I think what people want is good value. If something doesn't present good value, people will ignore it even if it's free. And if it is good value, people will get it even if they have to pay (unless the price makes it no longer a good value).

    I think that what a lot of companies, especially media companies, don't understand is that a large part of the problem with paywalls isn't the "pay" part, it's the "wall" part. Paywalls require that you register with the site and limit your ability to share with your friends.

    The registration requirement is, for me, the real catch. If I have to register, the odds approach zero that I'll bother with the site even if it's free.

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