How do paywalls impact your website traffic ?

It’s one of the scenarios plaguing publishing executives when they consider charging money for online content; traffic drops leading to their decision to monetise being branded a failure and ultimately a long slog to claw back market share. How realistic is this nightmare? According to the statistics, not realistic at all. Sorry to disappoint you, detractors of the paid content movement.

Let’s have a look at three scenarios and how their strategy worked out for them in regards to traffic:

Axel Springer AG

Publishes Bild, a German tabloid, as well as Die Welt, a German national broadsheet.

The Bild started charging for content earlier this year, and the results so far have been positive. Chief Executive Officer Mathias Doepfner has reassured reporters that web traffic is still at the same levels it was post-implementation of the meter but did say it was still early days:

It is very positive. Developments are in line with our expectations. But more importantly, the amount of website visits didn’t drop, which was feared, but that is not the case. Still we don’t know how sustainable this is.

As well as their tabloids, Axel Springer has planned a paid content strategy for other publications, such as their national broadsheet, Die Welt. As Axel Springer’s flagship daily, Die Welt implemented access control over their online content towards the end of last year, and subscription levels are promising. As of Sep 11 2013, of an estimated 282,364 unique daily visitors more than 47,000 visitors have converted to paying subscribers.

Crucially, due to the use of the metered model allowing both subscription and advertising revenue, Axel Springer has had a 3.3% increase in online advertising to €734 million.

The Telegraph

One of the biggest national daily newspapers in the UK and a major media brand internationally.

Since the metered subscription model went live this March, the Telegraph seems to have had a great success on their hands, with a new, defined revenue stream at no cost to themselves.
There has been no major effect on the site’s overall traffic, and looking at the overall traffic a month after access control implementation, it all seems to be smooth sailing.

The new figures show overall traffic for up both month on month and year on year in April.

The Telegraph has still held onto its spot as the third most popular national newspaper website and traffic growth is steady: according to ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulations) figures, there has been a 5.8% increase in unique browsers month on month, with last count in March 2013 being 3 million uniques.

Again, the benefit of the metered model is obvious here, as TMG harvest the fruits of one revenue stream while planting the seeds for another: the 20 article limit allows substantial income from digital advertising while gaining the benefits of extra subscription income.

This seems very sustainable when the Telegraph also claims the conversion process has been crucial to successful growth: The Telegraph claims that 90 per cent of readers who take up a free trial subscription after reaching the limit go on to take out a paid-for one.

The Sun

A British tabloid that has recently started charging for online content.

The Sun is one of the more recent tabloids within Britain that have become a member of the paid content group. Upon implementation of access control technology, the Sun’s website had a drop in traffic, losing a one third of its visitors in the first ten days

However this loss of traffic is not an end all disaster; a decline in 36% of market share still means a retention of 64% of the original market share. A 36% for a defined revenue stream is relatively light, according to James Murray, Digital Insight Manager at Experian. In comparison, when The Times implemented its paid content strategy in July 2010, it took a hit of 66% of its market share.

The Times, however, did not put up a meter.

Either people are becoming more willing to pay for content online or that metering content access has a substantial effect on retaining web traffic.


Overall, this data seems to be a welcome piece of good news. In an environment such as the UK, where the freely available BBC News Network can have the potential to disrupt news media, we can see that brand loyalty is very important to user experience, and In turn to revenue generation for online content. One of the trends we see is the prevalence of successful metered models, which in conjunction with effective audience engagement tactics, has become one of the most effective methods to encourage consumers to pay and save the newspaper industry.

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