A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

Posts tagged paywalls

Another set of liveblogged notes from Digital Media Europe 2017. Typos, inaccuracy and howling crimes against grammar and syntax probable.

Stefan Plöchinger, Digital Editor, Süddeutsche Zeitung and Editor in-Chief,

Stefan Plöchinger

Who are Süddeutsche Zeitung? They are the paper that got the Panama Papers.

Their subscription model has now surpassed the ad model – he’s happy, because he doesn’t think that the ad model is sustainable.

Paid content is a politicised discussion in Germany. However, their adoption of a paywall is not a political statement – it’s just what they need to do. They have a great growth curve – which he shared with us (including figures), but which he didn’t want shared.

Their paid content model is an agile paywall for SZ Plus. Basic news is free. It’s a commodity. You get 10 bylined articles from staff per week for free. Beyond that, there’s a premium paywall – subscriber-only content – and once you’re subscriber you get the epaper edition, too. It’s complicated, but they don’t need to explain it to the readers – because it just works.

All in subscription for €34.99.

Content strategy in the floorplan

They’re in a tower block with (relatively) small floors, so they have to be really creative with setting.

For example, the social media, homepage and managing editors sit adjacent to each other. They have a Textmarketing expert – but what does she do? She identifies the probably bestsellers in the articles they publish – and then she promotes them big time, on every channel that is possible and reasonable.

An agile editorial model:

an agile editorial model

They’re constantly surprised by what stories create subscriptions – this model allows them to continue doing that. They’ve torn down the wall between editorial and publishing (but not ads), to make sure everyone is working together to generate subscriptions.

They drive conversions with premium, evergreen content, with social sharing and with rebundling content around key dates or events.




Another set of liveblogged notes from Digital Media Europe 2017. Typos, inaccuracy and howling crimes against grammar and syntax probable.

Pål Nedregotten, Executive Vice President, Amedia AS, Norway

Pål Nedregotten

Ameida is a local business – although there’s a concentration around Olso, they don’t have titles in major Norwegian cities. And they had fine reach – but reach was never enough. Digital ad income would not fund local journalism as they’d known it. In April 2014, they launched single sign-on across all their newspapers, as part of a two step plan:

  1. Start with their paying print subscribers, 480,000 of them, who were paying significant amount of money for access. They wanted to convert them into digital subscribers. Then they needed to help them build a digital habit, in preparation for a print frequency decline. The hope? This would reduce churn.
  2. Turn that into growth – bringing in new subscribers.

Interestingly, each subscription comes with 5 user accounts – it’s a household subscription. Once you have logged-in users, you can capture richer data. And thus, you want to give anonymous users a reason to register and sign in. Move people up the value chain.

How to do that? A subscription layer – a paywall by any other name. Between 40 to 60% of articles are in the subscription layer. Getting the level right required some experimentation: hey needed to get above 30% before it really took off.

From reader to subscriber

They now have 527, 729 subscribed. They’ve put on about 3000 in the last week. That’s 12.9% of all Norwegians over the age of 15. In total they have 800,684 registered users.

But: are they using the sites?

  • The highest logged in 249,000 daily, and around 360,000 weekly.
  • They’re selling around 300 digital subscriptions every day.
  • That shoots up during campaigns. A Black Friday sale led to 4,600 subscriptions. There’s no signs of growth slacking off yet.
  • They have 130,664 digital only subscribers – and that growth curve is accelerating.
  • They’re not seeing print cannibalisation.

Will it pay enough?

Editors and journalists are trained in arguing and gut feelings. And that made it hard to persuade them that they can charge more than Netflix. And they could. And then they said they couldn’t charge more than Spotify – they could. 149kr to 229kr per month seems to be the right spot. The circulation income is trailing the sales – but it is clearly growing.

87% of digital sales are done on the online edition. They don’t have local sales guys – it’s the journalism that creates the sales. 64% are new customers, and the digital customer average age is below 50 – and crawling downwards

Retention is all about the right content

If people read you, they stay (at about 80% relation rates). If they don’t read you – they’re gone after 20 weeks.

So, they started classifying and analysing stories – and found that they had high readership and low volume content types, and high volume and low readership content. They were producing the wrong sorts of content – and that news was unwelcome in the newsrooms. This was the result of producing for print. If you’re assigned four pages of culture, you fill four pages. So, they changed the workflow: do content for digital first, and then build the print product out of that.

The paywall balance is really important. They’d never have this growth without the free content. The more people read the freedom content, the more they’re likely to subscribe.

They’ve stopped distributing analytics that hasn’t been worked on. They remove “fly by” traffic, that will and can never convert.

Last year they were Norway’s largest producer of live football. 347 matches streamed live, with one camera and one voice. That will be 364 in the 2nd division this year – they have exclusive rights. They’re broadcasting 1st division bowling – 12 subscriptions. 88 subscriptions on a youth football tournament, Local lifestreams convert really well.

Back in January the first newspaper crossed the “more digital than print subscribers” milestones. The same month one newspaper became profitable from subscriptions only.

Key Lessons:

  1. Put the reader first
  2. To deliver this value must be important enough to get it done.
  3. That means letting go of other stuff. Prioritise.
  4. Give clear goals and use progress monitoring
  5. Communicate values
  6. Don’t be afraid to charge
  7. The value is good journalism: the tech just enables it.


Probably the most important things in this model are:

  • Experimenting with the balance of free and paid content
  • Using analytics to reshape the content balance

This level of proactive content management work to understand the audience needs and obsessively reshape their business to support it is vital to building a vibrant local news ecosystem. However, Amedia moved before the financials became too constraining – too many local publishers didn’t. But the message is clear: be ruthless on focusing on the right amounts of the right content for people – and they will pay. But the free content is critical in getting them in.

Another set of liveblogged notes from Digital Media Europe 2017. Typos, inaccuracy and howling crimes against grammar and syntax probable.

Lisbeth Langwadt, Head of Paid Content, Ekstra Bladet – EKSTRA & Print

Lisbeth Langwadt

Secrets to digital innovation…

1. You have to reorganise

They used to have two silos at Ekstra Bladet: editorial and commercial. They worked side by side, but on serrate floors. That led to both teams seeing the site as owned by the other side, with resultant weak ownership. They moved to everyone having KPIs on the platform – and are physically sitting together, too. If something isn’t working, they can move much more quickly to revise their approach, with all the team in physical proximity.

They need to think and plan smarter, have better meetings.

2. New content areas

What worked for print probably won’t work for digital – but digital success may help reinforce print. Online successes can be used to provide better print products, once it’s proven itself online.

3. You need data

You need sales system data. You need content analytics.

4. Think bigger

Most digital content is very old school: text and pictures. You need to be much more ambitious in your storytelling to make people pay. You need to disrupt yourself before others do.

5. DNA is essential

They started with the wrong product name. The content was wrong. Digital is the future – so build it on your existing strengths and qualities.

What Ekstra Bladet’s Freemium 2.0 looks like

  1. New name: Ekstra Bladet+. Two levels of subscription: 5€ and 9€.

  2. Make it easier to pay. MobilePay is a pervasive mobile payment mechanism locally – and it has added subscriptions. They’re adopting that.

  3. Better UX design. So, their UX is not great. Paid content must be more Netflix-like: the archive is valuable, so make it accessible.

  4. More quality & DNA. To get people to pay, you have to have something different and which you can explain the value of to the reader.

  5. Explain the product better. If people don’t understand it, they won’t pay. So a cross-media campaign is coming to explain what is behind the paywall, what makes it different from free content, and why you should pay.

The Financial Times dropped its paywall over the Brexit weekend, deeming it important enough to give full access to its journalism. The result? A subscriptions surge.

In fact, the FT saw a 600 percent surge in digital subscriptions sales over the weekend (compared to the average weekend) since the Brexit vote news broke, which equated to “thousands” of additional subscriptions sales.

The Times did the same. I wouldn’t be surprised if they saw similar results.

The Financial Times Discovers That a Paywall Is Not a Panacea

The Financial Times is going through some financial hard times, and it’s down to print advertising, not the (successful) paywall.

Matthew Ingram:

Lamont said in his memo to FT employees that print revenue at the paper has been “far softer than expected in the first quarter of the year.” According to Politico, media measurement agencies like Enders in the U.K. estimate that between 2010 and 2018, the mainstream print industry’s share of display advertising will fall from about 30% of the total to under 10%.

Here’s a prediction for you: it won’t be reader disinterest that kills off the majority of print newspapers – it will be advertisers pulling their money out and putting it elsewhere.

Pando, occasional unapologetic copyright thieves, have decided to erect a paywall:

From today, the newest articles on Pando will be available to members first. Membership costs just $10 a month (or $100 a year, if you pay upfront) and members also get unlimited access to our entire video archive and to our real world events, in person and via livestream.

I guess we’ll find out how many people are willing to pay for undifferentiated opinion in a heavily over-provided news space (startup-centric tech), huh? Having spent over a decade working with paywalled business, both successful and unsuccessful, it’s pretty clear that people will pay for news they can use – and not undifferentiated news and opinion. My experience of reading Pando is that they have the latter not the former – but maybe there’s a content strategy shift at play, too.

They clearly think there will be enough people signing on to inflate their tech costs:

To coincide with our new membership model, we’ve spent months redesigning Pando from the ground up, including moving away from WordPress VIP to our own in-house CMS.

Building your own CMS can work – if you have the funding and focus of, say, Buzzfeed:

Pando has raised less than four million dollars in funding, ever — around 1/25th of the amount raised by Buzzfeed.

Oh, well. Never mind.

Douglas Boulton, one of this academic year’s crop of Interactive Journalism students at City, has just finished a couple of weeks as Ben Whitelaw’s personal coffee table doing shifts on The Times‘s community desk, and he’s shared his experiences:

I’m well aware of the bile that comments sections online are often dripping with, and honestly I was expecting my two weeks of moderating to be a fairly harrowing experience. Fortunately, you guys are alright, really. I don’t know if it’s something to do with the fact that The Times is a paywalled site, but by and large, 95% of you are respectful, rule-abiding, and most importantly, interesting in what you comment.

Not quite what I expected, either. One of the interesting things about The Times right now is that it’s one of the biggest experiments in building community behind a paywall, and that leads to some interesting side-effects. Maybe people won’t pay for the privilege of being arseholes online?

So please, when I give you a warning because you’ve libelled someone with your comment, relax for a minute and think of me sitting in a lonely office half way through a nightshift and a bit sweaty from my fifth cup of coffee, before you send me a furious email in which you call me a “jumped-up little c***.” Cheers.

Well, OK, apparently some of them will…

The FT Weekend app
One of the interesting things to surface in the work Neil & I did with the FT last summer was how different the readership for the paper is at the weekend. It looked like there might be an opportunity there.

Well, it appears that the Financial Times is making moves to capitalise on that:

FT Weekend readers can from today access content through the new FT Weekend app, a mobile-first proposition built as part of the FT’s award-winning HTML5 web app. The app is launching across iOS, Android and Windows 8 devices, and will come with a standalone subscription after the first free month which is supported by Swiss watch manufacturer Ulysse Nardin.

I’ve re-added the web app shortcut to my iPad this morning. The Weekend section is quite lovely, with a real magazine feel. The performance is slightly stuttery on my ageing iPad 3, but it’s a pleasant reading experience. Once again I’m reminded of how little difference there can be between a web and native app, once you launch it from an icon…

I can’t justify the cost of a full FT subscription as part of my work, but I’ll happily pay for the Weekend content. There’s some excellent journalism published there, and I’m looking forwards to digging through it.


News from the north: The Press and Journal is using Piano Media’s tech for a metered paywall – the first UK company to do so:

DC Thomson’s Head of Digital, Kirsten Morrison said, “After looking at the various paid content solution providers, we decided that Piano’s ‘Lite’ solution was the best fit for us. “We were very impressed by Piano’s flexibility and their integration and implementation speed.”

The Press and Journal’s website focuses on providing instant news access to users with a real-time stream of breaking news in timeline form. The website operates on a metered paywall basis offering readers access to ten free articles per month after which they must choose from one of three available subscription packages.

Interesting that metered paywalls are getting common enough to support a few off-the-shelf tech suppliers.

The FT is offering single-use links for its subscribers to share content.

It’s almost a Snapchat for news… 🙂

Interesting move, in that it potentially turns existing subscribers into advocates for the service – and adds value to their subscription, by making content sharable with colleagues. It doesn’t do anything to solve the social sharing problem – but that’s a separate challenge for them.

The news release went out today, but the surprise was rather blown last week by excited FT staff:

[Full disclosure: The FT has been a major client for the last few months, and I’ve been delivering workshops for them in partnership with Neil Perkin and eConsultancy]