News UK, which publishes The Sun, the UK’s biggest-selling tabloid, decided at the end of last week to get rid of the paywall on their online news site by the end of this month and rely instead on advertising for revenue. That doesn’t necessarily signal the beginning of a trend, and in fact may be moving in the opposite direction from most other publishers. Paywalls have had mixed results in the past few years. Metered paywalls that restrict the number of free articles an Internet user can see are pretty easy to circumvent with browser settings. A premium paywall that charges for premium content takes a bit more effort to get around, but it is by no means impossible. Scholarly publishers seem to have the most secure paywalls because they can expose summary content in an openly-available abstract, but viewing the complete article requires a purchase.
- Can dropping the paywall and upping the story count boost Sun’s website? (The Guardian | Roy Greenslade) “In commercial terms, News UK will be hoping that a larger Sun online audience will result in increased digital revenues from advertising. The signs are not promising just now because the once seemingly irresistible rise in online advertising for newspaper websites has slowed in the face of competition from the US-based digital giants Google and Facebook.”
- Stats: How social media brought down The Sun paywall (Econsultancy | Ben Davis) “Research by eMarketer in December 2014 estimated that in 2015 Google and Facebook will take 50.8% of the total UK digital advertising revenue (>£1bn). This is another stat that shows publishers need to be wary of relying solely on advertising revenue, when advertisers are so heavily invested in the major tech platforms.”
- Is the New York Times paywall a success? What can it teach other publishers? (Fipp | Ashley Norris) “There is one overwhelming reason why the NYT has been able to make a success of its paywall, and that is its commitment to quality journalism. In an age where news is commoditised and stories are shared via social media in seconds, the quality and depth of the NYT’s reporting and analysis really are second to none.”
- If you need a paywall, but you also need Google to love you, you have a problem (The Stack | Martin Anderson) “The Wall Street Journal’s paywall, forbidding as it may seem, is far from a decisive block to the non-subscriber, who in fact needs absolutely no software at all to skirt around it. It’s enough to copy the headline of the article that you want to read… paste the headline into Google and follow the inevitable link to the article, which will now be displayed without any obfuscation. Major digital publishers, all of whom are going to want good placement also as sources for Google News, cannot afford to send search engine spiders to content-free pages intended to rope in new subscribers, and so if the referrer for the page request is ‘Google’, you’re escorted promptly past all the bouncers.”
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