15 May 2019

Profits increase as more publications adopt paywalls


While there is still a long ways to go, more publications are picking up the subscription-based business model and setting lofty subscriber goals.


Santiago Ochoa

IAPA Staff Member

After an almost quarter-century long decline in subscriptions and an increased dependency on advertising, the newspaper industry has come full circle.

In 2011 The New York Times put up a paywall, forcing their readers to pay for online content. In reaction to this, many smaller publications held their stance and continued to focus their energy on selling ads, a practice that is now proving more and more futile as Facebook and Google's market shares in digital advertising continue to soar.

Now, in 2019, more and more publications ranging from Vanity Fair to Business Insider have followed in the wake of The Times's success. News sources like those however, enjoyed decades worth of experience in the industry when they made the leap into a subscription based-business model and a loyal readership along with well-established brand recognition afforded them some sort of stability.

No amount of experience and goodwill however can convince the general public of one key concept; they should start paying for news that a few years ago, was free. This is one of the main reasons mostly big names have been able to make the move into subscription services. Even the exceptions to the rule like The Information, a 5 year old subscription based news service covering news in Silicon Valley only manages to get by due to its high number of subscribers and wide appeal.

Smaller publications like metro dailies and monthly magazines however, have shown little interest in taking the subscription-based leap. The lack of research into how these business would fare with a similar model is reflective of this. Even large scale reports like the Reuters Institute Digital News Report show only around 16 percent of Americans are willing to pay for any sort of online news.

Subscription-based models have existed almost as long as newspapers themselves have. While the advent of the internet and digital advertising drew publications away from subscriptions with the allure of a larger overhead and audience, dependency on advertising has proven to be a detriment to the fundamentals of journalism. While not immediately convenient, subscription-based services provide true editorial freedom, a close relationship between the public and the publication, and a responsibility for news sources to put out their best.

If publications like The New York Times continue seeing success in their subscription-based services, more and more news outlets may follow, and the public will be closely in tow.