4 Comments

Summary:

Research from the Newspaper Association of America shows that most newspapers with paywalls are using a metered model, and free digital access for print subscribers is not a given.

Stack Of Newspapers On Table
photo: Corbis / Dirk Rees

The Newspaper Association of America recently examined 156 newspapers that have enacted some kind of paywall on their website. The data itself is for members only, but the NAA gave us a look. A few stats:

  • Metered paywalls are the most common, with 87 percent of newspapers allowing readers access to a certain number of articles before requiring a digital subscription. The blog Ebyline, which really dug into the data, notes that the average number of articles allowed before the paywall is 11.2.
  • Free digital access for print subscribers is not a given. Just 53 percent of the papers give print subscribers free digital access, with the rest offering print subscribers a discounted rate.
  • Of the paywalled papers included, six percent have a circulation over 250,000; four percent have a circulation between 150,000 and 250,000; and 89 percent have a circulation under 150,000.
  • Ebyline has a great graph showing the pace of paywall adoption. It shows a major spike in paywalls in 2011, at around the time that the New York Times added its metered paywall, and adoption accelerating again through 2012.

Expect the trend to continue: McClatchy, publisher of 30 newspapers including the Kansas City Star and Miami Herald, announced during its second-quarter earnings report last week that it will roll out metered paywalls on all of its papers’ websites by the end of this year.

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  1. Ms. Owen,
    The means to override paywalls are simple.
    David Wier lays it out very well here: http://www.7×7.com/arts/giant-holes-new-york-times-new-paywall
    That this isn’t currently well known by the public only — in my opinion — supports the argument that readership is declining in both print and online.
    In “Internet & American Life Project and Project for Excellence in Journalism” from Pew in January 2012 found that ” … 23% of survey respondents say they would pay $5 a month to get full access to local newspaper content online. When asked if they would pay $10 per month,18% of adults say yes.”

  2. Constance Hammond Thursday, August 2, 2012

    Thanks for the interesting article.

    BTW: just tried sharing on Google + (this article and one other on the site)…is your share functionality broken? I ended up having to manually share b/c the G+ box disappears too quickly.

  3. We are skeptical of publisher reports of paywall success.

    There are many ways to circumvent pay-to-read programs and publishers are loathe to admit when the schemes don’t yield a crowd of enthusiastic buyers.

    Why would a savvy reader pay for digital access, when every major story is available from many free sources? Cable and broadcast deliver the same stuff — quicker, free and with sound and motion.

    My guess is that newspapers report every hit on their websites, but ignore readers’ quick exit when the paywall appears.

    Auditing is suspect and the lamentable fact is most small/medium newspaper content is not worth the extra cost of digital access.

    But why not try it? Paywalls may produce extra revenue and they cost very little to administer.

    There are simply too many news sources for paywalls to work, honestly and over time. It is difficult to promote the system and advertisers should be suspicious about the numbers and value on on-line pay-to-read subscribers.

    Newspapers’ circulation claims are already suspect. Unverified paywall numbers add to the fog of phony audience claims.

    If a reader buys a digital subscription, what does he stop buying? Readers do not have media budgets that are infinitely expandable.

  4. In small markets – county seat dailies in upper midwest – we’ve gone to metered paywalls from open access, allowing five stories a month. Very minor negative reaction. Contact me at Phelps, Cutler & Assocites at phelpscutler@aol.com.

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