The digital paywall has been a point of contention with online publishers. What’s the best way to monetize your digital content? Asking readers to pay for a subscription is one popular approach, with many publishers experimenting with different models. But a recent survey showed that the popularity of paid content may be declining for trade publishers and online publishers. Here’s a closer look at the study and what may be driving the shifting dynamics in the market.
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A Reduction in Paid Content Ahead for UK Publishers
A recent survey asked 32 members of the Association of Online Publishers, who collectively own more than 1500 brands, about their intentions to implement paid content programs in the year ahead. The results were revealing. 62% currently charge or plan to charge for at least some of their content in the next year. However, only 21% have a complete paywall in place and that number declined from 27% the year before. Of those surveyed, 30% believed that freemium models would dominate in the year ahead.
What’s Behind the Changes?
At first glance, it’s easy to assume that the economy is what’s causing publications to rethink paid models. However, just 17% of respondents suggested that that economy was behind their decisions, down from a staggering 58% the year before. Instead, 51% cited competition as their main concern. The online context shifts rapidly, and publishers are working hard to keep up. Many high-profile examples have shown that there is a clear ceiling on paid subscription growth models. Often, readers also defect for free competing brands which ultimately backfires on brands trying to garner more staying power.
Where are Publications Headed?
70% of the respondents believe that mobile optimization is the direction of the future for online and trade publications. Rather than focusing on getting respondents to pay for content, publications are focused on optimizing their sites and content delivery to take advantage of this fast growing publication channel. Mobile revenues from ads, whether on mobile screens or as push features within mobile apps, can add a significant profit stream for publishers.
Are Paid Content Models Dead?
It’s important to note that what is being seen is a decline in paid content, rather than a complete absence of it. Publishers are exploring a number of different models. One of the most common is a hybrid, where the publishers continue to produce core branded content for free. However, they also maintain a well of premium content that’s available only for subscribers. In some cases, this materials is fully separate from the publication’s main editorial. In others, it’s supplemental material such as service sidebars, in-depth interviews, or first person retrospectives from the writer. The question is whether publishers are able and willing to deliver content that keeps digital subscribers engaged.
The survey from the Association of Online Publishers underscores an important trend that industry sources have been noting for some time. How people consume content – and how publishers get paid – is beginning to shift again. One thing is for certain: paid content models may be on the decline.