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Is this the year publishers find a way to reward readers?

World News Publishing Focus

World News Publishing Focus
Your Guide to the Changing Media Landscape

Is this the year publishers find a way to reward readers?

The New York Times is the pace setter on paywalls. In 2013 it notched up 760,000 paying digital subscribers, helping to change its revenue mix and reduce reliance on advertising. But media analyst Ken Doctor notes in an analysis of the results on his Newsonomics website, that digital subs are now plateauing. To grow revenue from digital subscription this year requires more sophisticated paywall strategies. To deliver growth, the Times will lauch three paid premium digital offerings this year.

In an analysis of Gannett's 2013 results published by Poynter, Rick Edmunds underlines that paywall success may be great immediatly after introduction but that publishers might struggle therefter to maintain revenue growth from subscriptions and control churn.

These issues will become more apparent as publishers move into the second and third year of paywalls.

But for some, who have not yet embraced the negative nature of the paywalls – where readers are locked out if they don’t or can’t pay the subscription – there is still hope that an alternative revenue model will be developed.

A far more appealing concept seems to be the idea of rewarding loyal readers who want to get close to content. After all, readers’ data, consumption habits and behaviour are, and should be of increasing value to smart advertisers and publishers who can leverage and link data.

Gaming companies and airline loyalty programmes are held up as examples of another route for publishers. But are any brave enough to try this approach?

In November last year, Sports Illustrated began testing an incentive driven scheme where readers who watched an advertising video were given access to some content as a reward. There has been no word yet on its success.

Raju Narisetti (Twitter @raju), Vice President and Deputy Head of Strategy at News Corp, floated the idea of a “freewall” at a seminar co-sponsored by the World Editors Forum and Wits University in Johannesburg last month.

“Our recent past, our present and our future lies in expanding our digital audiences,” he told editors.

In Narisetti’s model, the more readers engage with your digital content, the more they get for free. He cited 19 actions that could accumulate varying amounts of points. These would tie into a subscriber identity database and loyalty point system. Points could be racked up if you:

  • Comment on a story
  • Register with us
  • Recommend a story to Facebook
  • Post a story to Twitter
  • Respond to an ad call out
  • Respond to comments on a story
  • Subscribe to our page on Facebook
  • Upload a photo or video
  • Sign up for an alert/ newsletter/ email
  • Take a poll/quiz
  • Join a reader panel
  • Email a story
  • Enter a code from that day’s newspaper
  • Download an app
  • Respond to/post a classified ad
  • Sign up for a Daily Deals email
  • Point out a factual error in our story
  • Subscribe to the newspaper
  • Buy a movie/ concert/ sports ticket.

The more stories are read, the more comments are made and the more user content generated. This will result in more time spent on your site, and more ads served and seen. Advertising is still the largest source of revenue for media companies.

“It puts the choice where it belongs – in the hands of our readers – and forces our journalism and our newsrooms to be competitive, compelling and captivating. Newsrooms then can’t blame the paywall for why readers might walk away,” Narisetti said.


Cherilyn Ireton's picture

Cherilyn Ireton


2014-02-04 15:42

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The World Editors Forum is the organisation within the World Association of Newspapers devoted to newspaper editors worldwide. The Editors Weblog (, launched in January 2004, is a WEF initiative designed to facilitate the diffusion of information relevant to newspapers and their editors.

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