Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Experimental pay wall had limited effect on Web site traffic and advertising revenue

A study examining the effects of pay walls at about two dozen small- and medium- size newspapers revealed little negative effect on Web site traffic. "Steven Brill’s Journalism Online experiment, which developed a system that allows newspapers to charge their most regular online visitors, has analyzed its preliminary data and found that on average advertising revenue and overall traffic did not decline significantly despite predictions otherwise," Jeremy W. Peters of The New York Times reports. "The initial findings showed that newspapers found success with a pay model by setting a conservative limit for the number of articles visitors could read free each month, and by making clear that most readers would not be affected."

Monthly unique visitors to Web sites in the study fell between zero and seven percent, and page views fell between zero and 20 percent, Peters reports. No publishers reported a decline in advertising revenue. "Unlike a strict pay wall — which requires a subscription to view almost all editorial content — a model like the one Journalism Online employed does not choke off huge amounts of Web traffic," Peters writes. Brill explained, "If you set this meter conservatively, which we urge people to do, it’s a nonevent for 85, 90, 95 percent of the people who come to your Web site."

Most papers in the study set a limit between five and 20 free articles readers could view each month and charged between $3.95 to $10.95 in monthly subscription fees. L. Gordon Crovitz, a former Wall Street Journal publisher who is helping run the project, told Peters one lesson from the experiment is that "readers were willing to pay for some, but not all, content online." Consumers "will pay for the few news brands they really rely on, if they use them a lot," he said. Newspapers included in the experiment "focused on local news and included The Columbus Dispatch in Mississippi and The York Daily Record in Pennsylvania," Peters writes. (Read more)

Media commentator Steve Yelvington wrote about Journalism Online, which he says is not a paywall. He also writes about his experience with Web site traffic. ("Thinking about a paywall? Read this first") According to his blog, Yelvington was founding editor of Star Tribune Online (later rebranded startribune.com) in Minneapolis in 1994, and was executive editor and network content director for Cox Interactive Media. Currently, he "concentrates on longterm vision, strategy, and innovation for Morris Digital Works."

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