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Paywalls: shall we try to make them more attractive than the Berlin Wall?

November 30, 2009 4 Comments

Johnston Press is experimenting with paywalls for some local websites. It's an interesting development - it's easier to have a monopoly over local news than national news, so if people see this content as valuable, maybe you can get them to pay.

Sadly, a quick glance at paywalls shows that publishers - and Johnston Press in particular - need to massively improve the way they promote the benefits of subscribing ...

Awful attempts to sell content subscription

Northumberland Gazette

 Northumberland Gazette paywall

Northumberland Gazette paywall

For a start, if you're selling content, maybe make it look good? Don't refer to "the n/a site" ...

And let's sell the product. What's good about a premium subscription? What do I get, and how does it benefit me? I think some marketing advice is desperately needed here.

Worksop Guardian

Worksop Guardian paywall

Worksop Guardian paywall

This is the other half of Johnston Press's experiment - pointing out you can only read the story in full in the paper.

Could this be more underwhelming? Let's not talk about the great content in the paper or the benefits of reading or anything ... And let's not make the upsell message stand out, either.

Fairly poor


NMA paywall

NMA paywall

First things first - this is your main marketing message. So a greyish font on a lilac background does not stand out.

Second, try to SELL THE BENEFITS. I can get full access to the website - great. But why is this good? What are the events and supplements. I know this subscription will most be paid by companies, but that's no reason not to do some proper marketing.

FT paywall

FT paywall

(Click for a bigger version if you can't read it). I guess the FT may have tested this and it works. In which case ignore me. But to me it doesn't do a very good job of selling the benefits of registration for free (let alone subscribing). I can see some more articles. And some tools I've ever heard of that aren't described. Woo hoo.

Much better

Telegraph Clued Up

Telegraph Clued Up paywall

Telegraph Clued Up paywall

(Again, click to make bigger). Now we're getting somewhere. A description of the benefits (prizes, different puzzles, 5,000 to do), some proper thought into how the subscription is described and a strong call to action. Good.

Tmes Crossword Club

Times Crossword paywall

Times Crossword paywall

It's a bit hard to read, but look - a list of member benefits! That's how to sell ...


paywall-which(Click to make bigger, plus disclaimer - I worked on this redesign). You can see what you would get in context, there's a description of the benefits AND a strong call to action. Which? lets you browse round all the content and just hides the best information - the ratings.


Are publishers embarrassed by paywalls? Do they not understand how to sell? Do they not understand how to sell online?

I'm not sure what the issue is - but some publishers who want people to pay for online content clearly need to give a lot more thought to their marketing ... They should stop DESCRIBING it, and start SELLING it.

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  • Chie says:

    Fantastic post, Malcolm. Loving the comparisons. You couldn't have been clearer and more illustrative. You could definitely put YOUR blog behind a paywall, and I'd still pay for it (even though you'd offer me a free subscription, of course...;)).

    I think the problem is publishers are not used to the concept of selling online content so they have a lot to learn and need to develop their marketing techniques first. They've got to do their homework, read posts like this, think what works, what doesn't, make sure the content behind the paywall is good and unique enough to want to pay for.

    You're right when you say local news is easier to sell than national as there are fewer sources for it...which makes me wonder if perhaps hyperlocal news sites, which the nationals woudn't include and the locals would not have room for, could in future even become paywall-worthy. Surely there are some hyperlocal geeks around? Or what if the locals bought content from hyperlocals and offered that as an added benefit for paid subscriptions? Food for thought.

  • [...] and paying and what to charge are unknowns, but with a flexible system with graduated fees and clear benefits, this is a much more sophisticated model than some of the absolutist, binary solutions being thrown [...]

  • [...] Paywalls: shall we try to make them more attractive than the Berlin Wall? » malcolm coles Kevin: Malcolm Coles has an excellent review of how to make a better paywalls or pitches to get audiences to pay for content. My big take away is that sites need to clearly and positively state what premium content or added value audiences will get in paying for content. (tags: newspapers journalism online paywalls paidcontent) [...]

  • Tom Whitwell says:

    Thanks for your kind words about the Crossword Club.

    As you can imagine, this is something we've been thinking about a little bit recently...

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