Friday, April 12, 2013...3:32 pm

Paywall round-up

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With the recent announcement that the Telegraph was to extend its paywall to UK readers, paywalls have been back in the news, with several articles from different perspectives on how successful or otherwise they are. If you haven’t caught up with it all yet, here’s a handy round-up of recent paywall-related content…

First – the New York Times has had a paywall for two years now. How has that gone? Not bad, according to a interview with Paul Smurl of

“There’s a lot of willingness to pay. We were surprised, delighted, by what we’ve seen in terms of digital subscriber numbers.” Though be aware that means that numbers fell by less than they feared.

Second – here’s an interesting interview with Rob Grimshaw, managing director of, on The Media Briefing about how the media needs to learn a whole new skillset when it comes to making money from digital subscriptions – basically shopkeeping.

“Just because you open a shop doesn’t mean you are a great retailer. You are effectively entering a new kind of business, one that publishers aren’t familiar with, and you have to learn the craft”

Third – following on from this, research by pricing consultants Simon-Kucher & Parters suggests that publishers need to put more skill and resources into actually pricing their products better.

“Firms need to invest more in dedicated research and staffing for price, and should get senior executives involved in pricing. Otherwise, your paywall is just a barrier”

There’s more on pricing here. Media Briefing again.

Fourth – who needs a paywall? Not the MailOnline, certainly, which is set to make £45 million in 2013 from its 6.2 million daily visitors. Very interesting profile of this groundbreaking site on, again, The Media Briefing (I urge you to subscribe, actually – lots of interesting material, both original and curated). MailOnline editorial director Martin Clarke on paywalls:

“We don’t have to. We don’t feel at the moment that’s the way to go… We have scale, engagement and growth”

Lastly – if you spend all your time thinking about paywalls, you’re missing the point. Rupert Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff on the Guardian site argues that paywalls do not solve the existential crisis of newspapers – lack of young readers, lack of mainstream advertisers and paltry digital ad revenues.

“The paywall, other than providing a bit more time to wrestle with the underlining problems of newspapers, does not solve any of them”

Which is a bit of a downer – but what else do you expect from Freelance Unbound?



  • Two years ago, I would have enthusiastically agreed with Michael Wolff’s piece. Now I’m beginning to think again.

    To say that young people don’t and won’t ever subscribe to newspapers – and that this spells their eventual doom – is, I think, unduly pessimistic. Several reasons:

    • They still don’t HAVE to: while there is even one free newspaper – or one ‘porous’ one – then getting your wallet out remains unnecessary. I don’t think we can make judgements about what folks will or won’t pay for until they genuinely have no choice, ie until all newspapers (except, perhaps the Mail) are behind real paywalls…. which I foresee within two years

    • Young people grow into middle-aged people. Middle-aged people are a tad more discerning and demanding. They also have more money. Provided newspapers can keep acquiring 35-year-olds, they’ll be OK. There is no way of knowing what ‘digital native’ youngsters will want at 35, because none of them have got there yet. Nowhere close.

    • Aggregated news has never been much good. Ever tried getting any really useful, ‘proper’ news and grown-up comment from Flipboard, Pulse, Buzzfeed or Summly? These are entertainment services, not news and analysis providers. Fine until you’re 35 and a young parent. Then deeply unsatisfying. Also: as more newspapers put up paywalls, aggregated news can only get worse and worse.

    I’m reserving judgement on the future of newspapers for the time being. I think there are too many variables to call just yet.
    Soilman recently posted..The sun is out. The matrix has reloaded.

  • With the rise of ad blockers, many sites that were raking in dough from ads are seeing that revenue fall off. Mobile users also don’t help.

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