Paywalls are having little effect on newspaper web traffic
Here’s an interesting one. Steven Brill’s Journalism Online paywall system has put out a survey that claims newspapers using its paywall technology are noticing little difference in terms of traffic or advertising revenue.
The default belief is that web traffic evaporates as it is thought have done at The Times where it has put up a impenetrable anti-social media paywall. Not so elsewhere.
According to a New York Times report, its own paywall is due to go live next month, Steven Brill’s Journalism Online experiment has analysed its early data and found on average “that advertising revenue and overall traffic did not significantly decline”.
The NY Times does point out that the sample size of Journalism Online’s data was small, but not that small. It looked at data from more than 20 small- and medium-size newspaper sites using its Press + system. The newspapers using the Journalism Online system included the likes of The Columbus Dispatch in Mississippi and The York Daily Record in Pennsylvania.
It is worth noting that Press + is a social media friendly paywall system (or a metered paywall) and allows some articles to be read for free as the New York Times itself plans, and the Wall Street Journal and the FT do. The Times in London, however, gives nothing away and is said to have lost 99% of non-Times readers after its paywall went live.
“Initial findings showed that newspapers found success with a pay model by setting a conservative limit for the number of articles visitors could read free each month, and by making clear that most readers would not be affected.
“Journalism Online said monthly unique visits to the Web sites included in its study fell zero to 7 percent, while page views fell zero to 20 percent. No publishers reported a decline in advertising revenue,” says the NY Times.
Brill commented: “If you set this meter conservatively, which we urge people to do, it’s a non-event for 85, 90, 95% of the people who come to your website.”
He added that most papers had set a limit on the number of free articles readers access could access for free ranging from five to 20 each month. Brill also said that papers using Press + were charging between $3.95 to $10.95 a month for content.
So what can you take from that? Well it does seem to support the idea that readers are willing to pay for some content but not all content. The question is does what works on smaller papers transfer to bigger papers? I guess we will have to wait and see what happens to the New York Times before we can get a good answer to that question.