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As digital magazines compete for advertising dollars, many publishers are opting to put more of their content behind a paywall. Some publishers have achieved success with paywalls, while others have struggled with their implementation. Are paywalls the right solution for your digital content? Here are pros and cons of the paywall model, as well as some best practice tips, should you decide to go that route.

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Pros and cons of paywalls

The days of the free internet will never entirely fade away, but without compensation for content creation, that content is likely to fall in quality. However, making users pay for what used to be free is often met with resistance, and opting to implement a paywall can be risky. There is a glut of free content available on the web, which will deter the casual visitor from paying for content they can get elsewhere. Hiding content behind a paywall makes it harder to introduce your content to a new audience, which can hinder growth. Publishers are also worried that savvy users will find a way around their wall.

In truth, paywalls are advantageous in many ways. They provide consistent revenue. They signify to the reader that the content is valuable. Paywalls are often more successful for niche publishers who have a loyal audience who prize valuable content.

Types of paywalls

Paywalls are not a cookie-cutter implementation. There are several models with lots of variations. Here are some of the most common:

  • Hard paywall ― typically only displays an article title and a few paragraphs before prompting the reader to pay. These paywalls are more common among professional and financial titles.
  • Metered ― a certain number of articles per month are free. Then users are prompted to subscribe.
  • Timed ― articles are free for a certain amount of time before readers must pay to access them.
  • Freemium ― some content is free while content that is likely more valuable to the reader is hidden behind a paywall. If your data supports it, you can personalize paywalls according to how likely an individual is to pay.

It may take a few months of testing to determine which paywall model works best for your content and your audience. The one factor that must be consistent is quality. You must provide high-quality content to not only attract readers, but to ask them to pay for it.

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Implementing a paywall: Best practices

Putting up a paywall can be tricky. You want to maximize revenues without alienating readers. Your loyal, long-term followers will understand the value of paid-for content, while casual readers or those who stumble upon your content will not be as easy to convert. Here are some considerations and best practices for your paywall implementation:

  • Build a relationship with readers first. Offer valuable content for free to build trust and authority. Personalize the user experience as they interact with your content. Offer a free email newsletter, which will expose more of your content to the reader. This way, even if they don’t subscribe right away, you can still engage with them.
  • Delay pop-up subscriptions for 30 seconds after opening a paywalled page to reduce reader annoyance.
  • Analyze your customer data to determine how users discover your content, when do they read it, and on what devices. What types of content generate the most subscriptions sales? Which pages do readers spend the most time on? All these metrics can help you develop a paywall strategy that provides value for value.

If you provide valuable content that readers can’t get elsewhere, your loyal followers will stick with you even when they have to pay for it. That makes them even more valuable to you and your potential advertisers. If they trust your content enough to pay for it, they are more likely to trust your advertisers and click on their links.

Paywalls are an evolving technology. They provide one of the most viable revenue streams for publishers, yet, if not implemented carefully, you risk losing some of your readership.

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