According to the analog publishing industries, paywalls have been around for a long time now in the mode of subscriptions. An individual has to first complete a subscription before gaining regular access to any updated articles or contents of print products; it is pretty much the same thing as paying before picking your morning newspaper at your favorite newspaper stand. Way before all these developments came to be, ads, retail sales, and subscriptions were the major source of funding for journals, newspapers, and magazines and they continue to finance such print to date but to a lesser extent. More than ever before, publishers have embraced this type of payment model for online media.
During the early 2000s, large amounts of digital content sourced from online newspapers were free but today, one can hardly miss noticing the decrease of revenue generated through retail sales and print subscriptions even with the increase in the journalistic offering. During the mid-2010s, the number of readers buying newspapers and magazines from physical stores gradually started to fall; why was this the case? The major reason was the internet became increasingly vital for gathering information. From then on, print versions of several newspapers were rarely bought.
Research shows that most people access journalistic content online. Therefore, it means a shift for publishers as well so that they get ways to monetize their work online. Paywalls have become a standard practice in the US and the EU countries; in the US for example, 48 percent of media outlets have a paywall — a 10 percent increase since 2017.
Types of paywalls
There are different types of paywalls that publishers can choose from to offer their customers a wide range of digital subscription offers. Some types are hardly noticeable so the readers won’t even think of them as paywalls while other types are hard payment barriers which no one can workaround.
1. Hard paywall
In this type of paywall, a portion of web content remains closed for non-subscribers. Anyone who doesn’t complete digital subscriptions availed by the provider is, unfortunately, unable to read any articles too. The hard paywall is not very common since most readers who stumble across such hard walls will be inclined to look for the needed information in other places. The probability of interested readers going to the competitor’s site is highly likely as a result.
Moreover, placing an unreachably high payment barrier adversely affects visitor numbers on a particular website; this is among the major reasons why fewer advertisers might be willing to show their ads on similar platforms — no one is likely to visit the site. Most popular magazines and newspapers are exempted from these scenarios because regardless of a hard paywall, they still do well like the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the British Times.
2. Soft paywall
A soft paywall otherwise known as the freemium model offers free content plus premium offers. Any user gets to read a variety of articles on websites without completing a subscription or paying any fee thanks to a soft paywall. Despite this, special articles are provided as premium content, and only available to customers that pay regularly.
A soft paywall is the most common method used for partially monetizing digital content, especially in the newspaper domain. France and Germany mostly adopt this type of paywall while in the US, only 12 percent of publishers still use it despite it being barely non-existent.
3. Metered paywall
Another type of more subtle payment barrier is the metered paywall. This type gets its name from the word “meter” meaning “measure”, an indicator that this paywall is a payment barrier that changes depending on the user. Generally, every content on display on a website equipped with a metered paywall is free; however, the user determines the number of articles to access.
4. Dynamic paywall
After the metered paywall, there is another type of paywall that fittingly adapts to the behavior of a specific website visitor. With this different dynamic payment barrier, most publishers can analyze data coming from returning customers as well as user profiles; within a brief period, publishers get to know their interests, reading habits, and the choice of articles they anticipate reading each month.
For users who go back to a certain page more than once a day to access let’s say the business news, the dynamic paywall relatively quickly directs to payment barriers. On the contrary, for a reader who wants access to the page only a few times every week to read just a few articles, continues to get content for free. A primary example of a magazine that utilizes a dynamic paywall is the New York Magazine and it calculates the likelihood of a reader completing a subscription-based on data; the major challenge facing such publishers is constantly delivering value to ensure that readers don’t fail to return.
5. Voluntary donations
Another example of a paywall is the open paywall type which is the most unobtrusive method of monetizing digital content. This type of paywall is also known as voluntary donations. The Guardian is a prime example of how readers can contribute to certain newspapers and journals to be free from any paid subscription; more than a million readers made sure that it stayed free and outside a paywall by contributing either by one-off or continual support to keep the newspaper sustainable. In this type of paywall, donations come from readers who truly value the editorial independence of the newspaper and its commitments and efforts to investigative reporting. How do readers place their contributions? Well, as they freely look into all content on the site, there is a sidebar that links to available funding options.
Alternatively, most people working independently in creative industries or the media also look for methods to offer readers the chance of paying voluntarily. Patreon for example assists users to zero in on a content creator they can support with monthly payments and while they do that, they get exclusive offers.
Examples of paywall providers
Plenty of paywall providers are available for the US market. They employ sophisticated mechanisms to assist publishers to easily monetize on each article by using a paywall.
LaterPay is one of the clients behind the creation of a soft paywall for salon.com including other publishers. The young start-up established a finance model that allows the user to buy content with a single click, aggregate any purchase, and register and pay when the tabs get to $5.
From Germany, this start-up provides paywalls for several types of online content. Steady offers different memberships that assist providers to convert everything from newsletters, podcasts, and articles, into money. Apart from the option of membership option, Steady has other amazing options like donation modes and advertising too.
The Dutch company Blendle, recently put up for sale individual articles in digital newspaper stands. Previously, users could access the articles they prefer without necessarily committing to a subscription. Up to August 2019 however, they had to change their strategy and take up a premium subscription model. Meaning that up to date, Blendle provides specific news articles from a considerable amount every month; it revolves around big streaming providers and similar business models like Amazon and Netflix.
4. MPP Global
MPP Global is an award-winning platform; with eSuite, it has powered plenty of paid content strategies for the entertainment and media industry. It supports all types of paywalls with optimum flexibility and has top-notch client lists that include NBC Universal and Sky.
Views from paywall critiques
Some paywalls are notably problematic when crucial information and news remain inaccessible behind payment barriers. Most critics claim that individuals with lower income, will not have the financial means that will enable them to pay for access to premium content. Additionally, freedom of speech and other principles like the open internet is hidden because of this. Furthermore, another downside of paywalls according to critics is their ability to create digital bubbles, because almost all readers that have a monthly digital subscription are highly likely to get more articles from the same source. Such a scenario makes it easy to advance the molding of public opinion.
Negative effects linked to paywalls affect media providers and marketing efforts. A negative effect of the hard paywalls type is it reduces the number of website visitors; consequently, advertisers will instead opt for running their ads with publishers where more users frequently visit and that is with those utilizing either soft paywalls or metered paywalls.