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What news organizations can learn from The Augusta Chronicle's successful paywall

What news organizations can learn from The Augusta Chronicle's successful paywall

The question of payment plans and what works for the online model has been of particular interest to the newspaper industry. With The New York Times preparing to begin a metered paywall, Dallas Morning News having just implemented one, and The Telegraph considering one, paywalls have been making headlines. Pro-paywallers have received their affirmation: The Augusta Chronicle has experience a five-percent increase in traffic since implementing their own paywall, reported Alan Mutter on his blog, Reflections of a Newsosaur.

The difference in its success lies in how the paywall has been implemented. Some media outlets, such as The Times and Greenville (South Carolina) News have implemented hard paywalls. The Times released data in November that left critics confused as to how well it had actually done, and Greenville News lost nearly half of their web traffic within two hours of launching their paywall. By contrast, The Chronicle started with a metered paywall. Readers were told they could click on 100 premium articles a month before having to pay for content. Digital-only subscribers pay $6.95 a month for the subscription, while current print subscribers pay $2.95 to access the online content.

Chronicle editor Alan English said to Mutter, "We had a digital growth strategy before we decided to implement the subscription system." The company has already begun implementing this system. A couple hundred people subscribed the first few days, a number which has since gone down to two to eight new subscribers a day. With the success of the model, The Chronicle has been able to bring the number of 100 free premium articles down to 25 free articles a month.

The decision to launch a pay strategy was a declaration that The Chronicle provides quality journalism that deserves a price tag. English said on the paper's site, "[T]he journalism we do is more expensive than some other forms. We go beyond the button-pushing journalism some bloggers and copycat online sites offer. It requires staff and money to be your watchdog on government and to report the news you've come to expect from your newspaper. We put forth a credible, methodical and formidable news team for years."

Critics are hoping that The New York Times learns from The Chronicle's success. The Wall Blog's Gordon MacMillan said, "The key is, as I've banged on about, is keeping your paywall open to social media and not taking the impenetrable and anti-social media approach of The Times." Reuter's Felix Salmon agrees: "Now that the decision to launch an NYT paywall has been made ... and tens of millions of dollars have been spent developing it, I do hope that they will be smart enough to roll it out slowly, with a low price and high quota for the first few months. If they do that and traffic doesn't fall, they'll be much better positioned over the long term than if they come out of the gate annoying a lot of readers who are currently not willing to pay for news online."

Core readers also go through more pages and ads than referred users from sites such as Twitter and Google, reported Newsonomics. The Financial Times, which also has a metered paywall, reported that 50 percent of their online traffic came from 10 percent of their core readership - mainly those who had paid for online subscriptions.

For his part, English remains cautious. "I would not draw too many conclusions from the early numbers. It's very early in our game and we are still building our strategy. But we are glad to be part of the wave of people who are putting forth the value proposition for content created by professional journalists. Giving it away for all those years was a mistake."

Sources: The Augusta Chronicle, Newsonomics, Reflections of a Newsosaur, Reuters, The Wall Blog



Meghan Hartsell


2011-03-16 17:25

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