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.
“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, 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.