Is The New Yorker Making a Mistake by Choosing a Metered Paywall?

This month, The New Yorker launched a metered paywall, allowing visitors six free articles before being asked to subscribe for $12 for 12 weeks

This month, The New Yorker launched a metered paywall, allowing visitors six free articles before being asked to subscribe for $12 for 12 weeks or $60 a year ($70 for a print+digital subscription). While we applaud The New Yorkers instinct to value its online-only content, we can’t help wondering — Is a metered paywall really the best model for a consumer magazine with original content?As much of our research shows, metered paywalls work best for breaking news sites, where there’s a lot of free competition for readers’ eyeballs on the same story. Breaking news sites can attract more volume than consumer magazines (thus generating more revenue in advertising), but the conversion rates are historically low for metered paywalls. While our 2013 Online Subscription Benchmark Report found that most subscription sites were getting free-visitor-to-paying-subscriber conversion rates around 1% to 3%, metered paywalls average conversion rates less than 0.5%, and sometimes as low as 0.2%.Furthermore, consumer magazines have the benefit of offering readers original content, not re-written wire stories like many news sites. What they have to offer can’t be consumed anywhere else (other than the print version of the magazine).When offering truly original content, subscription sites can afford to be more strict in their delineation between free and paid content. Our Case Study on Consumer Reports illustrates how dividing free and paid content by type (reviews are free, ratings require a subscription online) lets consumer magazines monetize its print offerings online while still driving traffic with free, SEO content.In another Case Study example, The Week found revenue success in re-creating its print magazine in a paid tablet app, but doesn’t publish its magazine content online. Instead, The Week creates wholly new, briefer, and more up-to-the-minute content on its website in order to drive traffic and brand recognition.Another model is Slate, which has kept all of its offerings online free, but started a new, membership-based site called Slate Plus to drive consumer revenues.Furthermore, a metered paywall leaves consumers confused about what they’re actually paying for when they do subscribe. The New Yorker would likely see higher conversion rates if it split its free and paid content by type; for example, Goings On About Town, The Borowitz Report (an “Onion”-like spoof on current news) and cartoons should be free, but all in-depth articles and fiction should be paid. Come to think of it, given the long reads of The New Yorker, the publication might benefit more from The Week’s model, i.e., re-creating its print magazine for “lean-back” tablet-only viewing, and leaving its online-only content free.

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