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Why paywalls are the solution

Paywalls come in all shapes and sizes and it’s important to choose the right model for your publishing operation, says Full Fat Things’ Stewart Robinson.

By Stewart Robinson

Why paywalls are the solution

The online publishing landscape and our industry’s revenue from it is under attack.

Restrictive data legislation from GDPR makes it harder to find out who our customers are and what they want. Increasingly complex advertising solutions erode the reader’s experience as well as their trust.

The default model for publishers on the internet has been to have advertising supported products selling traditional print content online. We have an idea of who is visiting but not a complete picture. This data is valuable. We can sell more to advertisers by providing more detailed reader profiles and we can improve our service to our audience if we understand who they are.

Add to this the costly internet advertising market with diminishing ROI and we get a compelling case for moving away from a solely ad supported model for digital publishing.


We’ve been selling subscriptions and advertising for centuries. Readers are more used to paying for content than we think. The web temporarily stalled this whilst we figured out online revenue, but readers still want high quality trusted content, from brands that distil their view of the world. The FT boasts over one million subscribers, three quarters of which are online subscribers. The New York Times has over three million digital-only subscriptions whilst maintaining good advertising opportunities, showing the two can easily co-exist.

Paywalls come in various forms. They form a sliding scale from the “hard” paywall blocking all content, like The Athletic to “soft” paywalls like The Guardian’s supporter paywall which reminds readers regularly to join. They also include membership paywalls where we simply exchange identity for access. The data is critical to understand and monetise the audience.

The Economist is a fine example of selling subscriptions online. They have in the past put less content behind the paywall in times of healthy advertising markets and more content behind in challenging advertising markets. They mix their model of advertising and paid content to suit the global advertising market whilst retaining paid audiences.

The paywall doesn’t have to kill search rankings. Several publishers use Google’s Flexible sampling which allows Google to collect content but, in return, a small number of articles must be given to readers coming from Google search results.

Look this year to see whether you can start charging for access to your content online either with subscriptions or exchanging access for membership information. Consider a mixed model of using advertising and subscription or membership paywalls, flexing forwards and backwards with advertising sales. Digital subscriptions and paywalls can help you build and identify your audience online to give a better picture to your advertising partners of your exact audience.

We’ve been selling subscriptions and advertising for centuries. Readers are more used to paying for content than we think.

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About us

With a combined experience of over 50 years in the publishing industry, we’ve worked with names like Future, The Economist, Which?, Wiley and Wolters Kluwer on both B2B and B2C products. We can help take raw print output and create digital products with real revenue, often with minimal additional production inside the publisher.


Tel: 020 7099 3875



Twitter: @fullfatthings


This article was first published in the Publishing Partners Guide 2020, which was distributed with the January / February issue of InPublishing magazine.