Time Magazine’s announcement this week that it was erecting a paywall buried the lead, as we journalists like to say.
The new $30 all-access plan only applies to content that appears exclusively in the print magazine. That content is barely visible on Time.com, and it represents a tiny fraction of the dozens of articles posted on the site every day.
Time.com, as the press release mentioned in paragraph four, “has 95% original content separate and distinct from magazine content.”
And very few people go looking for it online, Time.com managing editor Jim Frederick explained to me at Fortune’s conference on technology this week.
“Unless you are coming to seek out a cover story, you probably won’t hit the pay wall,” he said.
So what’s the point? It certainly isn’t financial.
Let’s do some math: They are talking about a target of 50,000 to 100,000 conversions from the online space to the all-access pass. (Which is a lot cheaper than the marketing costs of converting a new print subscriber.)
At the most optimistic, this means another $3 million in annual revenue, hardly enough to make a difference in their bottom line.
It seems that Time is really looking to send the message to print readers that the content they pay for in print is worthy of their money on digital platforms too.
And it looks like it could be a policy that will be applied across many Time Warner publications.
I asked Andy Serwer, the managing editor of Fortune, whether his publication was getting a paywall too.
“It’s safe to assume that could happen,” he said with a slight smile.
It’s coming soon: before the end of the year.
Serwin said that he was not sure if Fortune would adopt the same model as Time, because Fortune had a more complicated set of factors – a partner in CNNMoney, existing paid apps, a Fortune 500 list that needs to remain free to readers.
“I’ve always been for a paywall,” he said. “Our content is valuable. And people always ask us why it’s free on the website.”
To convert, however, “We can’t just flip a switch,” he said.
Serwer said the move is not because of declining circulation. Fortune’s circulation has held strong at about 850,000.
“It’s a long-term business view,” he said.