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Paywall Promos: How Far Should Newspapers Open The Door?

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As newspapers lock content behind paywalls, marketers are opening that same content right back up again through campaigns that provide readers with temporary access for free. The idea seems a good one but newspapers are still experimenting with when and how to do it.

On Thursday, for instance, the Wall Street Journal (NSDQ: NWS) launched a Jaguar-sponsored “Digital Open House” to provide free website and mobile access to the paper’s premium content. The 24-hour campaign, which gives prominent place to Jaguar ads, follows similar sponsorships last year by Sprint (NYSE: S), Citi and Acura.

The Journal’s main rival, the New York Times (NYSE: NYT), has yet to pursue a paper-wide strategy. Instead the Times has been parceling out smaller windows of free content on a section and platform basis.

In September, for instance, Ralph Lauren paid to make the entire New York Times’ fashion and lifestyle sections available for free on the iPad. The paper has also offered similar vertical-based promotions with a credit card firm and an upscale auto brand. Spokesperson Eileen Murphy said more such promotions would occur in the coming year.

Last year, the Times also ran a promotion in which car-maker Lincoln paid to subsidize subscriptions for 100,000 especially-engaged readers.

As paywalls become more commonplace, a debate may soon emerge about whether it is better to let advertisers pay to unlock the whole site for a period of time or only select pieces of it.

For advertisers, the Times’ approach promises a more granular audience but it may also lack the buzz that comes with an across-the-site sponsorship like the one the Journal offered Jaguar. Raising the entire paywall also offers a chance for the car company, which is in the first day of a new campaign, to maximize its ad exposure.

As for the newspapers, the lift-the-paywall gimmicks may produce higher page views and the potential for pulling in new subscribers. But the real value probably lies in ad money from the sponsorship themselves.

Going forward, the news sites will likely have to decide how far they can push the promotions (might we one day see “paywall free Tuesdays” or Open House Fridays?) without offending paying subscribers.

(Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the New York Times’ credit card and auto promotions were upcoming. They have already occurred and other promotions are upcoming. We regret the error)

One Response to “Paywall Promos: How Far Should Newspapers Open The Door?”

  1. Gretchen Shelby

    Hi Gretchen,
    Interesting article on the paywall that I thought you might like. Wall Street Journal is doing something that I think is unique to open access and also drive sales.