Paywalls: not the only show in town

At the recent Campaign Publishing Summit, Hearst CEO James Wildman explained why he did not see paywalls as part of their publishing future.

By James Evelegh

Paywalls: not the only show in town
James Wildman (on the left) and Gideon Spanier at the Campaign Publishing Summit.

Whilst there has been much talk in publishing circles of the need to grow reader revenues, using pay / data walls, for consumer-facing brands with significant reach, heritage and name recognition, advertising and associated revenues still underpin their publishing strategy and they are loath to put up any barriers.

“Paywalls are anathema to us”, Hearst UK CEO James Wildman told Gideon Spanier at December’s Campaign Publishing Summit, because “nobody makes money in digital without scale”.

While some, particularly in B2B, might disagree, the scale game is clearly central to Hearst’s strategy. Their three revenue pillars are: growing print share (despite the challenges), digital acceleration and revenue diversification (experiential, licensing, accreditation).

Country Living Hotels, the Good Housekeeping Institute and the Esquire Edit are all examples of this strategy in action, where the strength of the brand makes these titles highly attractive commercial partners.

The key, as James recognises, is simultaneously maintaining the credibility of the brand and growing its reach.

The next challenge on Hearst’s horizon? Engagement. Wildman says the company is working hard to build deeper relationships. 24 million come to Hearst’s sites each year, but the vast majority remain anonymous. Putting a name to more of those is the next goal, and membership models might form part of the answer.

Wildman is upbeat about the future and fully embracing of change: “Change is business as usual”.

“Due to the gravitational pull of trusted brands”, said the Hearst CEO, “we’re in a good place”. And although he would say that, wouldn’t he, such positivity is uplifting.