Blog Post

Press+: Publishers are offering less free content online

RR Donnelley’s Press+, which lets publishers offer metered paywalls and manage digital subscriptions, says those publishers are making less content available free to readers. The 370 publishers using the platform let readers view an average of 11 free articles per month before hitting a paywall, down from 13 free articles at the beginning of 2012. (Similarly, Newspaper Association of America data shows an average of 11.2 free articles per month across 156 newspapers.)

Thirty-nine percent of Press+ publishers let readers view fewer than 10 articles per month for free; more than half of these let readers view fewer than five articles per month for free.

Press+ is presumably sharing this data because it wants to sign up more publishers as clients and doesn’t want them to fear the paywall. Co-CEO Steve Brill said in a statement:

“We know that having a sudden, blunt pay wall pop up before visitors can read anything doesn’t work, because unlike the meter, with its advance messaging that tells people they will be asked to pay after they have read five or ten articles in a month, consumers can’t sample the content and don’t get into the mindset of being ready to pay when they are asked to pay. So some kind of metering is absolutely necessary, not only for maintaining traffic and ad revenue, but also for maximizing subscription sales. However, setting the meter lower, at, say five to ten articles, seems to hit the sweet spot — allowing sampling while enhancing subscription revenue.”

It’s unclear why publishers are gradually offering fewer articles for free, but they may be following the lead of the New York Times(s NYT), which recently cut the number of articles it offers free online to ten per month, from twenty. It’s worth noting, though, that 61 percent of Press+ publishers still offer at least 10 articles free per month — suggesting that if there is a sweet spot between sampling and revenue, nobody agrees on what it is.

7 Responses to “Press+: Publishers are offering less free content online”

  1. “It’s unclear why publishers are gradually offering fewer articles for free”
    Web publishers have been reducing the meter to a lower threshhold to make it more inconvenient to those visitors who delete the cookie from their browser once they hit the end of the free ride. Deleting the cookie after 30 articles is not inconvenient. Deleting a cookie after reading two articles is inconvenient. Those publishers who have been utilizing the meter for three years are using between two and five free articles. Some will put up a free registration request with email confirmation after two articles, and then request a paid subscription somewhere after five to ten free articles. It’s all trial and error with high importance placed by the publisher to know what content his customers want to consume and what price they are willing to pay for it. Those visitors who do not want to register likely will never be a customer of the publsher and will never generate revenue for the publisher.

  2. Lon Haenel

    I’d be interested in research about % of newspapers with paid content allowing free articles via social networking (sharing, tweeting, etc) AND via search engine site referrals. There are a plethora of ‘free articles’ available from the above, not figured into the meter count.

  3. Greg Golebiewski

    It would also be interesting to learn what the conversion rate of Press+ publications is.

    Piano, a similar product in Europe, reports its paywalls convert from 0.5% to 1.5%, The NYT’s conversion seems to be around 0.8% to 1.3%, depending on which number of monthly uniques one uses as the bases for the calculation. Other publishers behind metered paywalls say (however reluctantly) that it is about 1%.

    What is the average conversion rate of the Press+ publications, Gordon?

  4. Gordon Crovitz

    Laura, Thanks for the coverage. To elaborate on the issue you raised of why publishers are lowering their meters, the reason is that publishers generate more digital subscriptions the more of their online readers hit the limit of free articles. For the 370-plus publishers using Press+, we use online data to guide publishers to the new information on the optimal number of free articles, which maximizes subscription revenues while ensuring that no publisher loses online display advertising revenues–they retain plenty of ad inventory to sell. A high percentage of publishers with paid models online are now using Press+, so we have important industry data on best practices, including where to set meters, what prices to charge, how to “bundle” different digital versions and how to convert print subscribers into being both print and digital subscribers, making for an orderly and more profitable transition to the increased use of digital products that every publisher now acknowledges is happening.

    By the way, many of us heavy users of would be willing pay for unlimited access if you set a meter on how much free access we got.–and you could see how meters work as a great application of the freemium strategy used widely outside the new industry, you would generate significant incremental revenue and, using our data, we’d ensure that you don’t lessen your number of monthly unique visitors in the process. Deal?

    (Gordon Crovitz is co-founder of Press+)