Johnston Press dropping its paywall says nothing about the Times’s plans
Johnston Press is dropping the paywall on its local papers, with the number of subscribers said to be in single figures. People have already started to draw conclusions from this:
- "The conclusion is clear - charging for local news online is something of a no-go." (Paid Content)
- Rupert Murdoch: "he’s on to a surefire loser." (Bitter wallet).
However, my view is that the Johnston Press experiment tells us precisely nothing about anything. The reason? Johnston Press had implemented its paywall in the worst way possible. All you can learn from this is that a paywall that makes no attempt to sell the content won't sell any subscriptions.
Why Johnston Press's paywall was rubbish
Here's an example of its former paywall (ie what you saw when you tried to read an article).
As I've pointed out before in my paywall review, this was rubbish.
It used jargon, describing itself as "premium content", and failed to explain the benefits of subscription. With this particular paper, they described themselves as "the n/a site". As far as I am aware, this bug was never fixed during the whole four month paywall experiment.
How to implement a paywall properly
I won't rehash my paywall review, which had good and bad examples. But let's see what Rupert Murdoch's been doing since I wrote that.
And the Sunday Times:
Altogether more engaging and attempting to sell the content - unlike the Johnston Press example.
South Coast Today: a paywall in action
And here's a paywall in operation at another one of Rupert Murdoch's papers, South Coast Today. Here's what you see once you've hit the 10-article limit:
Then you're taken to some screens which explains more. You can choose to register or pay:
Not sure of the benefits of subscribing over just registering?
Interestingly, you can even get the site and paper bundled in one subscription if you live in the right area (note that a subscription to the paper only or the website only cost the same).
These methods of selling people paid subscriptions to websites may not be perfect (I think the South Coast could do a lot better with the box that tells you that you need to subscribe to read more).
But they make a much better fist of it than Johnston Press has.
I wrote in an email at the time Johnston launched its paywall that:
The danger is that a badly executed paywall puts Johnston Press and others off. They could do it SO much better, which would surely improve conversions. All a bad trial tells you is that bad trials don't work ...
And that's my conclusion today. A paywall that doesn't sell the benefits of subscription won't sell anything. And that's all that Johnston Press's experiment has proved.