KEY POINTS

  • Many traditional and some digital-native publishers are adopting digital paywalls. These pay-for-content models have been helpful in stabilizing legacy publishers' businesses in the wake of print declines. They offer an additional revenue stream for these companies and for digital natives looking to decrease their reliance on the volatile ad market.
    • In 2009, only five of the US newspapers tracked by the American Press Association had implemented digital paywalls. By 2015, this had climbed to 77 out of 98 US newspapers tracked. 
  • The most common types of paywalls are strict paywalls, metered paywalls, and the freemium content model. Strict paywalls, or hard paywalls, require users to pay to access all original content. Metered paywalls, or soft paywalls, allow readers to view a certain amount of content without paying a subscription fee. And the freemium content model allows readers to view some content for free, but other content that's considered premium requires a subscription. 
  • There's no one-size-fits-all model for publishers. Publishers with highly specific and unique content tend to gravitate toward strict paywalls, while those with a more general interest focus often operate with metered ones. The freemium content model tends to appeal to digital-centric publishers.
  • Paywalls can become leaky. This happens when publishers decide to make select news content available to everyone on a case-by-case basis. Most commonly, publishers make their paywalls leaky by distributing content on social media sites like Facebook's Instant Articles or the Apple News app, or by providing breaking news content on their own websites. 
  • The traditional paywall model will need to evolve to be successful in the future. That's because millennial audiences are less willing to pay for content than older generations. Long term, publishers should look to alternative paid-content models like micropayments, membership programs, and user data exchanges to monetize readers. 

Introduction 

Both traditional print and digital-native publishers have long relied on digital ad revenue to drive growth. But recent trends — like the rising prevalence of ad block technology and the consumption of media on social platforms — are now chipping away at their top lines. To offset these losses, many traditional and some digital-native publishers are adopting digital paywalls.  

Digital paywalls restrict content to readers to encourage them to purchase a subscription or otherwise pay for an offering. They've been helpful in stabilizing legacy publishers' businesses in the wake of print declines, and offer an additional revenue stream for these [...]