Newspapers Raise Online Prices, Offer Less Free Access

Let the paywall debate rage on, as more and more newspapers start charging for content

Newspapers are strengthening their paywalls, raising prices for digital subscriptions while reducing the number of stories people can read before having to pay.

According to the latest research from Press+, the average price of a monthly digital subscription has increased 40 percent since July 2011, though just five percent in the last six months.

Press+

Moreover, 35 percent of Press+ affiliates have restricted their readers to five or fewer articles per month, and 77 percent allow 10 or fewer.

The data is based on Press+’s research into its own affiliates. The company is an e-commerce platform that helps publishers implement flexible subscription models. It currently works with more than 400 publishers to implement pay models.

(Though paywall is the term most people are familiar with, Press+ prefers the term meter, as the number of permitted views functions as a meter. We'll split the difference and call them metered paywalls.)

While that means Press+ has some skin in the game — more paywalls means more business — it also gives the company access to a trove of data about the proliferation of paywalls.

Newspapers like the Los Angeles Times and Boston Globe have implemented paywalls during the time span Press+ conducted research, as did publishing conglomerate McClatchy — a Press+ client.

“What we’re seeing is a tide sweeping through the industry of publishers lowering their meters and moving to prices that reflect the true value of their content,” Gordon Crovitz, Press+ co-founder and former publisher of the Wall Street Journal, said in a statement. “As a result they’re gaining more reader revenue while continuing to retain all their advertising revenue.”

It remains to be seen whether paywalls can have a profound impact on revenue for the newspaper industry as a whole. Though papers like the Wall Street Journal and New York Times have found success, others, such as the Globe, have had a harder time convincing people to pay.

Yet as industry expert Ken Doctor often points out, newspapers have always operated with dual revenue streams, earning money from both advertising and subscribers. As the internet has obliterated advertising revenue, newspapers and magazines have been forced to look elsewhere for cash.

While at first that meant layoffs, it has since resulted in a flood of new paywalls, which even online-only publications and bloggers like Andrew Sullivan have implemented.