Paywall changes how all content creators get paid
Less and less content will be accessible for free. Writing trends tell that about customers
How do paywalls work?
Paywall is a monetization tool that blocks access to a website partially or completely, effectively putting content behind a wall. Visitors have to buy one-time access or become regular subscribers with microtransactions. Usually, it’s either credit card, Apple Pay, or telco payment.
Technically, a line of code or a plugin is added to a site with which you can manage what part of the content is blocked. Podcasts and audiobooks are paywalled similarly and in both cases, visitors see the preview of content they are interested in. Contrary to popular belief, new paywalls can’t be bypassed with incognito mode or modifying the source code.
Media has used paywalls for some time now and in that context, it’s virtually a paper subscription made digital. Since ordering paper to your doorstep decreased with the introduction of smartphones, media outlets have gone from showing ads to selling digital subscriptions again.
But paywall isn’t just a feasible option for media and digital newspapers. Technically, it can be used to lock any format of digital content, sell access to it in one click, and build your list of paying customers. This makes content creators less reliant on ad revenue while giving new options to monetize your blog, podcast, e-courses, live streams, and many other formats of content.
Ad revenue is in decline and other problems
New York Times has reported their advertising revenue has been in decline since 2006 while subscription revenue has increased after implementing a paywall and focusing on digital subscriptions.
Approximately 30% of internet users use Adblockers making it a problem for companies that aim to sell their products through these ads effectively but a larger problem for content creators that rely on ad revenue as the main source of income. Media outlets have seen this trend coming from their statistics and have adapted already. In 2020, 56% of European media sites used a paywall while 76% of media sites in the US used a paywall. We can expect globalization of this trend making more and more content unavailable for free.
The use of ad blockers affects bloggers the most but there are other important issues at hand. Bloggers outside of the US and non-English blogs face the difficulty of driving enough (local) traffic to their site to depend on ad revenue. The largest local bloggers generate up to 200–500€/month from ad revenue which isn’t sustainable. There’s virtually no ad market for podcasts anywhere outside of the US and the industry won’t start hyper-growth without a dependable monetization strategy.
What format of content can be locked and who’s it for?
Paywall can be used for all kinds of content in any format. You can lock articles, audio files, videos, and file downloads.
Media sites that write content and have an audience already can start monetizing it in 10-minutes by opting for an easy-to-manage plugin and coping strategy used by successful media groups. We have seen most success from niche outlets that create unique content that isn’t accessible for free anywhere else. Sites like Medium.com (hello), economist.com, and Wired.com, who are creating quality and unique content making their readers engaged enough to pay for access. At the same time, creators can rely on their work instead of clickbait traffic for ad revenue. More often than not, there aren’t obvious free alternatives for those niche sites either. All of the sites above already use a paywall.
Blogs work similarly to media sites and should capitalize on their premium content.
Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish is a grand example of a blog that successfully implemented a paywall and gained $93000 from subscriptions in 3 weeks from its launch. It’s likely that you need to change your approach to content creation by realizing which content is paid and free. Additionally, a paywall helps you measure paying traffic, the success of a content piece, and drive quality leads to your customer base.
Podcasts can work similarly to audiobooks. Visitors can listen to a few-minute preview of each episode before making a purchase or subscribing. The whole industry is in rapid growth with new niche podcasts popping up every day.
According to 2021 data, there are over 850 000 active podcasts and over 30 million episodes globally. But it won’t reach hyper-growth until there are feasible options for monetizing your content worldwide. The podcast would focus on inviting exceptional guests of the highest quality and listeners would subscribe for a few euros/month.
All other types of content creators, that aren’t only on Instagram, can sell access to exclusive (but non-sexual) content without having to take clothes off and joining OnlyFans. Health & Nutrition bloggers can keep posting free content but locking recipes and selling ebooks. Many business and investment blogs can charge for fundamental business analysis or market insight that they curated. Marketers can sell market reports or growth hacks that are valuable instead of using them for lead generation. You’ll get that email when they subscribe but you will also generate revenue from content.
And last but not least, it’s a viable option for artists, musicians, and other fields of culture that got hit by COVID-19. Many musicians turned to Zoom to still perform live and be connected with their fans. A new digital industry emerged which changed the way we consume content. Live streams, concerts, and access to behind-the-scenes material can be sold tickets to with just a few clicks by having a paywall and using a hosting site. This could help artists that currently endure a lack of royalty payments from Spotify.
What are the benefits of a paywall?
Stable income — Your fans can buy access to the content they want to consume. This makes creators less reliable on revenue from web traffic (ads) and sponsored content. Fixing the issue for small-time & local creators. They can generate income from content that they already create.
Data to measure — you’ll have a better overview of how your content performs and what type of content your audience wants to see. Understand what kind of posts bring in subscribers, what content sells, and what you should be creating more of. It has never been this easy to measure the ROI of content.
Loyal customer base — Every purchase data ends up in your CRM where you can re-engage with your subscribers. Consumers will return to your site more often when they are paying for access.
Paywall as a monetization strategy — what should I know?
We know the paywall business well from working with largest media groups in this side of earth whom we have run hundres of A/B tests to find conversion-optimized paywall. Here are the do-s & don’t-s.
- Understand what kind of content you are currently creating that could be put behind a paywall. Should you be creating longer or better quality content if you don’t already? Switching to a paywall is a monetizing decision that you can test with the following point.
- Lock site partially at first to understand for which content are visitors willing to pay for. Test different types of content and measure results. We’ve seen that locking the full site without a very large audience will not convert as well.
- Don’t just assume that people won’t pay for podcasts or ebooks because they haven’t until now. They thought the same thing about digital media. Data shows that fans are willing to pay for exclusive access and OnlyFans success story is a prime example of this. The majority of the industry is accessible for free but OnlyFans has already paid out more than 2 billion dollars to creators.
- Start with a campaign when introducing subscriptions at first. Offer large discounts in the first few months with price raising in the future. Start with as little as $0.99 to convert leads that would actually pay for content.
- Don’t do “free trial” or “first month’s fee” or any other variation of the same campaign. Even though your subscriber numbers will skyrocket, the churn rate will be too large making all data misleading.
- “Ad-free experience” is not appealing for visitors to pay extra for it. Ad blockers are free — why would anyone pay on your site for that?
- Forget about multiple membership levels. The only successful options are “subscribe” and “buy one-time access”. Nothing else has made any difference on conversion and it makes your content creation more annoying.
- Make “# of Subscribers” your KPI (key performance indicator). Content should be made to boost that number one way or another. The only success metric of each post is how much revenue is generated.
- Prepare to invest energy into the transition. First subscribers and premium content are the hardest at the beginning. Once data rolls in and you know what to do, it’ll run smoothly.
- Most importantly, quality content is what drives engaged subscribers. No other reason will keep consumers engaged enough to pay for access for a long period of time. We assume that clickbait titles will cease to exist.
The trend started a while ago and it continues into web3 era with micro transactions & exclusivity. More about it in the next posts.