Can a Paywall Label Help the Spread of Accurate Information?

Today, if you want accurate news on any topic, you’d probably visit a well-known online newspaper. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The Telegraph, The Guardian, and Financial Times have a reputation for providing accurate news and information.

However, if you’ve visited any of these news websites in the last few years, you’d have seen a message like this: “You are out of free stories for the week. Please subscribe now and gain access to accurate original news reports”. 

Some sites offer trial subscriptions as low as $1, while others offer a free subscription for a week. At the end of the trial period, you may need to pay a monthly or weekly subscription fee to continue reading fresh news articles.

That is what a paywall is all about. With the massive drop in the purchase of printed newspapers and magazines, many media outlets have to find a new way to generate enough revenue to provide accurate news and pay their staff. We’ll attempt to define what a paywall is and how it works. Then we’ll discuss readers’ perception of paywalls and some positive effects paywalls can have on the accuracy of information.

What is a Paywall?

On a website, a paywall is a feature that requires users to subscribe to the website before gaining full access to all its content and value. Paywalls can provide access to content in small increments. For instance, a news site may offer a whole month of access to a user after subscribing to a newsletter or by accepting to display adverts.

Similarly, a paywall may restrict access to all website content until the user pays a digital subscription. This subscription will work on the website as well as the media company’s mobile app. 

Digital subscriptions may also offer other user privileges or benefits. Those can include removing all display ads, permission to leave comments, loyalty rewards, access to journalists at conferences, and giveaways. 

How Does a Paywall Work?

A paywall works by permitting access to a small part of an article before a pop-up comes up and blocks the rest of the content. It allows publishers to attract website visitors and encourage them to pay to access the website’s content. 

The purpose of a paywall is to attract the right users who are willing and able to subscribe to digital content. If you are a publisher, you need to understand the type of visitors that come to your website, create user segments, and personalize your message to each group. 

For casual, “fly-by” visitors, you may offer just one free article, or ask them to remove their ad blocker and display ads while reading. For regular visitors, the paywall may offer a low subscription fee for full access throughout the month. 

To increase monthly subscriptions, publishers need to understand how a paywall works and personalize paywall messages. Effective personalization may require a careful analysis of user habits on the site through the use of cookies and other user tracking technologies.

What Do Readers Think About Paywalls?

The online audience has enjoyed free access to magazines and newspapers since 1994 when access to the internet grew rapidly. However, some users have shifted to alternative news channels as mainline media publications put paywalls in front of their content. 

For news publishers, there is a shift from ad-sponsored journalism to a subscription-based model. While these news articles still show up in search engine results, Google has been hesitant to attach labels to these sites. Recent insights on paywall labelling show that Google believes that users may respond by not clicking on such sites.

However, the behaviour of users will also depend on the type of newspaper and the quality of content they offer to readers. For instance, The Financial Times only allows new users to see the title and subtitles of their content. Thereafter, users must choose a subscription plan to see the rest of the content. So far, that kind of subscription system has worked for FT.

Indeed, the Financial Times now have over 1 million paid subscribers that provide about 67% of its total revenue. The positive response is due to the unique brand, and the high-quality content that FT offers its readers. 

Benefits of a Paywall

Paywalls offer benefits to both publishers and readers. For publishers, paywalls can bring in a continuous stream of income from satisfied readers. It also ensures that there’s a good return on the money spent to provide high-quality journalism. 

As a result, the best columnists can provide award-winning content for subscribers who appreciate the value they receive. Users who subscribe to walled content will receive well-researched, accurate, and professionally presented information that they can’t get elsewhere.

During the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, for instance, the New York Times provided registered users with a free daily report on the pandemic and information on how readers should protect themselves. Other local news publications in the U.S. like The Oregonian, Quad-City Times, and Santa Maria Times also put accurate coronavirus information in front of their paywalls.

The credibility and loyalty built by these publications online helped their subscribers and other readers to obtain verified information from a reliable source.

Overall, using paywalls has helped news media sites to generate more revenue, provide better quality reports, and also give back to society during times of crisis.

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