Publishers Need Popcorn, Not Paywalls


Credit: Francesco Rachello

Publishers across the world will be keenly scrutinizing the response to The Times

This article originally appeared in Forrester Research.


Nick Thomas

Thanks for all your comments.

Robert – fair point about the % of Guardian income from cover price, but then I’m not suggesting popcorn is the primary revenue stream. If companies can create 20% of total income from ancillary revenues that would be a pretty good way to go. By the way – popcorn, pies, tartlets – is there a pattern emerging here?!

Roger – agree absolutely re News Corp playing a bigger game, once The Times is bundled into Sky subscriptions etc. That would be a great example of ‘free’ access to content driving what are actually the core revenues of the business (ie broadband and PayTV). Not an option for all publishers, though.


Absolutely! Profiling and dynamic targeting with the right ads without interrupting the content experience is the way forward.

The better you treat the people reading your content, the more they’ll trust you and give you more information to even better profile them, give them more relevant supporting ad content and make more money without alienating readers.
You have to start somewhere and the source site and location of sign-up is a good place to start.

Roger Warner, C&M

Hey Nick. I think you and the Times are in agreement. They’re following the kinds of things you suggest, almost to the letter. i.e. cutting services up to match audience wants, needs and (important) platforms/devices. hence their ‘Popcorn’ (or whatever you want to call it) comes in the shape of Sky Sports. My relationship with the Times just changed. Now I have a relationship with News Corp content. (Blogged here – I’m thinking that makes Rupert a smart guy….


Great article, publishers can’t just sell space to the highest advertiser, they need to match the offer to the audience. They have the content and the following to deliver great advertising which would generate massive affiliate revenues. Something as simple as serving adverts based on site location coupled with browsing history would be a force to be reckoned with.

Paywalls are not the answer.

Terry Purvis

That’s how radio started in the 1920’s – receiver manufacturers creating attractive programming to stimulate demand for their sets. And Radio Veronica is a 1960’s example of the very same principle.


Publishers need Cracker Jacks. There’s a prize in every box. You need to crunch the numbers to get it popping up. Keep it sticky or get stuck in a hole.


Did movie theaters start allowing people in for free to sell more popcorn? That would certainly increase audience. An audience who pays something is more engaged and likely to pay for popcorn. An audience who gets in for free is more likely to trash the theater and ruin the experience for everyone else.


The popcorn for publishers is information service. The problem is newspapers, especially here in the USA focus more on ignoring the majority-minority (non-white) populations in the city they serve, sensationalizing inner city crime and promote celebrity gossip material. The office makeup of the local USA newspaper is a good ol boy organization trying to win good ol boys awards they give to each other every year. Newspaper status quo-orientated operation is a marginalized business model and I can careless about newspapers not adopting and trying to ride out the slide to zero.

What I care about are the new media firms and information services who are coming into the marketplace with popcorn to sell such as Reuters, selling vertical information, not trying to convince an old dog new tricks.

Robert Andrews

Thing is, what IS the popcorn for publishers?
Probably agree that they need to add popcorn to their mix, but they’re not necessarily there right now even in print. Per yesterday’s article, 52% of Guardian print income comes from the cover price. In other words, the content IS what people are paying for (?).
DMGT makes loads of money from wine… maybe foodstuffs are an avenue… I wonder if the popcorn for publishers… is popcorn ;-)

Carolyn Morgan

Agree with the point that content is a way to attract an audience, and then there are many new revenue streams that can be exploited. Clever b2b and specialist consumer businesses worked this out a while ago. Some of them are featured in the media pioneer awards:
More ideas in this article based on the Specialist Media Show conference sessions:
Not so sure about the popcorn, though…

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