Readers don’t mind paying for online news and many popular newspapers in North America are all abiding by this principle via Paywalls. The New York Times currently has over 640,000 digital subscribers and is growing by double digits every quarter. The essence of a paywall is giving 5-10 online articles away a month, for free, and then prompting them to subscribe digitally to read more. Thousands of Newspapers are evaluating buying into this new subscription model at the World Newspaper Congress in Bangkok.
“The general impression was that it would be impossible to reverse the culture of free content, that people will never pay for it,” said Gilles Demptos of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers. Still, all major Canadian and American newspapers have all embraced this new structure and are doing well. Not that they have a choice, as advertising revenue has severely diminished by 42% since 2008. Unfortunately, newspapers keep their actual subscription figures close to the vest and tend never to publicly divulge the amount of money they are making. So its hard to get an accurate reading on their overall success.
It remains to be seen if smaller and medium sized newspapers could even be relevant in an online environment that charges for content. This is primarily due to the decline of readership in North America, which has slumped by 13%, and the 25% fall in Western Europe, as well as the 27% decline in Eastern Europe in the last year.
The overall decline in readership is mainly allocated to the success of Flipboard, Pulse, Buzzfeed and Reddit. Often, these online communities are breaking news stories and are more engaging to talk about the major stories and issues. Jeff Jarvis, of the City University of New York said that the industries “infatuation with paywalls are encouraging it to replicate its old, industrial business models in a new, digital reality, and the real problem remains a lack of engagement with web communities.”
The newspapers that really succeed in the digital space with Paywalls tend to be the major National editions or ones that operate in large urban centers. They can afford to hire the best writers and employ a higher degree of journalistic integrity. They may not be able to match the breaking news that Twitter can, but can deeply analyze issues and dissect events for meaning.