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Paywalls and events are among the many strategies publishers are taking to diversify revenue

March 26, 2019 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

Innovation is the key driver of sustainability and financial viability. This is why successful publishers are developing and testing new products, offerings and revenue models. A new report, 50 Ways to Make Media Pay, by Professor Damian Radcliffe of Oregon University in partnership What’s New in Publishing, offers an overview of 50 different revenue opportunities. It’s a collection of strategies—from paywalls to advertising tools, events, and commerce. Some are new ideas while others are not. It’s the collection and the variety of the revenue diversification options and the links to publishers executing these strategies that make this report so valuable.

Professor Radcliffe highlights the pivot to paywalls and a focus on reader revenue as a new norm. The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, and Bloomberg are some of those offering subscription products. Following its move to put Wired behind a metered paywall, Conde Nast has announced plans to follow suit with its other magazine brands.

One thing that paywalls offer (in addition to recurring revenue) is the opportunity and flexibility of real time learning.

Paywall Types

Publishers are experimenting with a number of different types of paywalls:

Hard paywalls will not allow consumers access to content without a subscription. Both The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal use hard paywalls.

Metered paywalls allow users to read a set number of free articles before the user must pay the publisher (subscribe). Reducing the amount of content that audiences’ accesses for free is one way to try and drive consumers into paying for the content.

Hybrid paywalls offer some free content to users while other sections are secure behind a hard or metered paywall.

Vertical-only paywalls allow subscribers to pay for a standalone access to a vertical like sports, entertainment or food section.

Geo-location paywalls use IP addresses to identify users’  locations. Different locations may have different paywall limitations. A local audience may have more access and free articles than a user outside the local (target) area. This type of audience identification is often attractive to advertisers targeting a local audience.

Print and digital bundling began as a method to build digital subscribers. Originally, it offered loyal print subscribers, especially newspaper, a discount for digital access. Now, the tables are turned. In order to get the print product in front of more eyeballs, many offer free (or heavily discounted) print access to digital subscribers.

Online surveys offer a trade-off of user information for free content. There’s a consumer willingly to answer questions about themselves for free access. User information is a valuable commodity, especially to advertisers.

There’s also the pay-as-you-go strategy of micropayments. This approach enables readers to consume content one article at a time. Blendle, a journalism startup in the Netherlands, partners with many leading Dutch publishers to offer a micropayment plan.

Memberships offer new opportunities for publishers. It’s particularly relevant to a mission driven publication. Memberships offer the newsroom a chance to build a closer relationship with its members (readers). Memberships often offer access to bonus content and special events. Slate Plus is successful using this membership model.


In addition,events are a solid revenue source for publishers. They can also act as a great marketing tool to attract new audiences and subscribers. Events allow for live interactions between the publisher and its audiences. A number of publishers are quite good at hosting an invite only industry offering with high level networking opportunities. (Think of Digiday’s Recode and FT’s Ignition.)

Live events and recordings include big ticket interviews of industry or popular icons (e.g. Hillary and Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama). Popular radio show events offer consumers the chance to watch a taping of the show in a live studio setting. Two radio shows, This American Life and Radiolab, completed successful live tours across the U.S.

Happy hours and socials are great vehicles to attract and build an engaged reader community. At these events, attendees have an opportunity to talk to journalists about a relevant and/or current topic. Events can be lucrative for small publishers too. Billy Penn, a Philadelphia based digital news outlet, reports that events constituted 80% of its revenue.

Publishers need to evaluate the brand relevance and potential of each revenue strategy. What works for one publisher, may not work for another. Experimentation is key to learning the best approaches for publishers to monetizing their content and first party relationship with their audiences.

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