The Worcester Telegram & Gazette's new metered paywall is flexible, reports Poynter's Bill Mitchell in an interesting analysis of the paper's strategy. It announced on August 15 that it was to start charging online, offering readers 10 free articles a month before asking them to pay ($14.95 for a month or $1 a day). Mitchell, however, discovered that he could read far more than his allotted number and asked the paper what this meant.
He was told by publisher Bruce Gaultney that the metre could be turned up and down. Mitchell believes that the possibility to adjust the metre to "manage the tension between revenue and reach" and "the extra clicks underline a key strength of the metered approach."
The metered approach is generally appreciated for its flexibility over a full paywall: allowing everybody limited free access allows a paper to continue to have a relatively wide reach and to more easily attract new readers. This, of course, means that it can retain advertising revenue, which would be likely to suffer considerably if a complete paywall was introduced.
Allowing the number of free articles to be adjusted means that the T&G can establish an optimal balance between subscription and advertising revenue and therefore generate the most money from the payment system. Will it be something that other papers launching a metered paywall might consider? The New York Times, for example, whose parent company owns the T&G, is to introduce one in January 2011.
The Waco Tribune-Herald, however, has just adopted a different type of payment system, which puts all its original content behind a paywall. The decision is justified on the website by the fact that the paper can't afford to continue giving its content away, that the paper wants to be able to offer a better online service, and that it's not fair to make some customers pay for the print edition but offer the same content free online. Print subscribers will get free online access, but online-only readers will be asked to pay $9.95. Associated Press content and classifieds will remain free to all.
The Times of London recently implemented a similar paywall, charging for all its content beyond the homepage. Its traffic fell dramatically after the system's introduction, but not more than anticipated. Which method will prove more effective and more profitable as paid online content becomes more widely adopted?