The Paywall: a hotly debated issue that has spurred on fighting talk from journalists, political insiders and business leaders alike as they attempt to identify the most effective ways to earn cash through online newspaper sites.


Whilst some newsbrands argue that implementing a paywall has increased/protected the quality of their content and draws in more loyal readers, others dismiss this. The opposers claim that the web is an open environment and should remain so and that by withdrawing behind a paywall you ignore the first rule of new media – be easy to share.


The Times was the first of British newsbrands to experiment with paywalls, in 2011. Since then fellow titles, The Telegraph, The Sun, and Financial Times have followed suit (to varying degrees) and have (again, variously) reaped the rewards.


Mike Darcey (CEO of News UK) argues that paywalls are the future of online journalism, a claim support by 56% of industry experts asked in a recent YouGov study. Further stats from this report revealed that 49% of respondents believe that consumers who access news sites via paywalls are more valuable.


There are several benefits associated with using a paywall that go beyond the obvious fiscal gains. Newsbrands argue that the solid incoming money helps support the reporting of stories that would otherwise be too expensive to follow (the classic argument is: would Huff Po ever have rumbled Nixon?). This improves the quality of content they are able to offer, thus adding more value to a subscription. The quality content draws in quality readers, which in turn encourages quality brands to invest in advertising through these sites.


These “quality” readers, willing to make long-term financial commitments to a specific online news site, are the kind of loyal customers all brands crave. The Times claims that online readers spend 40 minutes browsing their site, just 4 minutes short of the 44 minutes readers spend on a print edition of the paper. Furthermore, the personal data provided in any subscription is a hugely valuable information source in this day in age, where brands are looking to achieve deeper engagement with their audience.


In making a success out of a paywall, newsbrands suggest that a key component is offering something that readers can’t get for free elsewhere. For example, the Sun partnered with the Premier League to offer subscribers exclusive football highlights and content.


Dan Briolet (consulting media director at YouGov) said: “Over the past couple of years different news outlets have tried different ways of making money from their digital operations. All we can say with any certainty at the moment is that the future of these models is unclear.”


We know that one size doesn’t fit all. Each publication attracts a different demographic and the loyalty of this audience and their willingness to pay for news is going to vary. We agree with the lack of clarity over any one model proving to be ‘the one’. Rather, we envisage the current variety continuing to be explored, from paywall to free and every step in between. Newsbrands need to provide value for themselves and for us, the readers and advertisers.