You’ve probably encountered pop-ups on publisher sites. There are several ways they can get you to pay and the truth is that most people will, although they may not like it.
A major news event just occurred and you, like the rest of the world, go to Google to read about it. You find an article that seems interesting and you barely glimpse the first paragraph before being hit with a paywall. The phenomenon of paying for content is not new, but it has become more widespread in the past few years. While video content providers like Netflix and Hulu have set up subscriptions, digital publications that produce premium content also want to capitalize on the pay-to-access trend. You’ve probably encountered pop-ups on sites like The New York Times, The Times, The Guardian, The Financial Times and countless more. There are several ways they can get you to pay and the truth is that most people will, although they may not like it.
Paywalls have a clear purpose. Digital publications want to make money from the premium content they produce. The content comes with a price tag because this type of content requires more time and resources in order to create it.
A paywall is a type of digital mechanism digital presses use in order to restrict access to premium content. Most often, it is used for news articles. Users can unlock access by paying a premium or signing up for a subscription.
In a more general sense, paywalls can also be viewed as the monetary exchange between publishers and their readership. Not all paywalls require users to drop a few bucks on an article. Some persuade readers to whitelist or bookmark a page for further use. Digital presses might even allow free access to a particular article if a user provides their email address. The purpose of this of course is to later send promotional emails to encourage a particular reader to come back for more content. There are even instances where a reader can share a post on social media for free access to content. The price is not always monetary. The price can be personal data exchange, and even free advertisement for the press. The content that users access from many news and digital presses is in fact paid for. The NY Times reached 7.5 million subscribers in 2020 with the Gaurdian following second with 3 million. What’s more is that the NY Times jumped to 8.5 million subscribers in 2021 and brought in $50 million in revenue from digital subscribers alone. Needless to say, with this sort of success, paywalls are here to stay.
Just as not all paywalls charge money for access, there are a few different types that a digital publication can use on their sites. The following four are the most frequently encountered by digital readers.
Just as the name suggests, a hard paywall implies a hard stop. When a reader encounters a hard paywall, they will typically only see the article title and a small preview of the introductory paragraph. Then the user is prompted to pay for further access. Hard paywalls require some form of paid subscription before providing a user access to any content. They are usually the most difficult for a user to circumvent, and the downside for business is that they are the riskiest strategy overall. This type of paywall is most commonly used by professional and financial titles. Some examples of hard paywalls include The Times and Financial Times.
While a hard paywall has the opportunity for a business to make good money, the first time they were implemented they were met with firm user resistance. When hard paywalls were first introduced many publications saw a dramatic and very immediate loss of their digital readership. When digital readers were prompted to pay, they would just navigate away from the site. The Times of London lost over 90% of its audience after the debut of its paywall. People simply didn’t want to pay for information that could be found online elsewhere for free.
However, with more and more companies implementing paywalls, the amount of information that could be found on other sites for free began to shrink. More users started to adjust to paywall practices and now The Times of London generates over $60 million a year of previously nonexistent revenue.
This type of paywall, often called a soft paywall, is the most popular choice for publications. The Financial Times brought this paywall to life. Seeing that it was a successful option, this model was then adopted by The New York Times as well as countless other digital presses and news aggregates globally.
The paywall works by allowing a certain number of articles that are accessible for free. Once this number is hit, a user is prompted with a paywall in order to access more articles. For many businesses, determining the right amount of content that is freely available is crucial. Publishers have two main decisions: how many stories are free and what to charge once they aren’t.
The Financial Times has seen promising growth with this model. The publication has reached its highest-ever paid circulation for print and digital products. In total, the company has over 1.17 million paid subscribers and is on track to reach 1 million digital-only subscribers. Their growth has been exponential since the introduction of their metered paywall in 2002.
This type of paywall is most often used by companies with a smaller target audience. Otherwise known as the reverse paywall, a freemium model splits up paid vs. free access by content type. This way certain articles are behind paywalls while others are free. There is no metered number of freely accessible articles before being locked out.
Many publishers use this in order to gain ad-supported revenue and subscription revenue. With this, they will always have something available to their readership and be able to maintain a high rate of content consumption on their platform.
Hard, metered, and freemium paywalls all follow basic programming that determine when a user sees a paywall. Dynamic paywalls require more user data and run based on chance. The idea is to collect data on a particular user’s frequency of visits on the site, what they view, if they share and what their reading habits are. Once this information is synthesized an algorithm is used to determine when the best chance of showing the paywall will be. The goal is to time it correctly so that the probability of a visitor converting into a paying subscriber is high.
Paywalls are making publications money off of their premium content. Writers and artists certainly deserve to be paid for their contributions and expertise. It takes effort and time to create meaningful and high quality content. However, more and more content is becoming locked behind paywalls and it is turning the internet into an echo chamber. The argument is that many critics of paywalls believe that implementing them is counterintuitive to the original purpose of the internet — free information. When reputable information is locked behind premium plans and paywalls, the gap between accessibility widens. It brings issues pertaining to lack of information, limited accessibility and income disparities. In order to have information, you have to pay for information, this leaves a gap between those who can afford to be informed and those who can’t.
Not to mention, there is a general sense of frustration with paywall implementation. Around 58% of news readers are frustrated when halfway through an article, they are interrupted with a paywall. More and more information is becoming hidden from users and while people will begrudgingly shell out the cash, the undercurrent of distaste still exists. Many users long for the time when information was free and not sequestered behind pop-ups asking for payment.
We let you have your feed, your way. With Invisibly, you can earn points with your data and spend those points to access content you want to see. We are making paywalls invisible. It is simple, you can earn points by answering simple surveys, interacting with content, and more; on our platform’s app or website. With these points you can access premium content on your Invisibly feed with the click of a button. Quality information doesn’t have to be expensive or inaccessible, with Invisibly, you can pass through paywalls to see the content you love.