A new study finds temporarily relaxing or suspending paywall access on news sites eventually leads to an increase in subscribers.
Published in the journal Marketing Science by INFORMS, the international association for Operations Research & Analytics professionals, the study was authored by researchers from Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul and Emory University in Atlanta.
Reinforcing the value of sampling as a marketing strategy, researchers found that when certain news organizations temporarily suspended paywall restrictions on certain stories of public interest, like the COVID-19 pandemic or U.S. presidential election, or provided free access up to a certain number of articles, new visitors were more likely to become subscribers when restrictions were re-imposed.
“Our analyses revealed that the temporary paywall suspensions not only increased the amount of traffic during the suspension period, but also increased the likelihood that those visitors would become paid subscribers,” the study’s authors noted in a release. “We further found that the variety of content consumed during their period of ‘free’ access increased the likelihood that visitors would actually choose to subscribe.”
Using clickstream data from a major news organization, researchers analyzed how paywall suspensions influenced subsequent subscription decisions among users. Among the major stories studied more closely were the mid-Atlantic blizzard in 2016, and the 2016 U.S. presidential election and subsequent inauguration. Researchers say the underlying impact of the gesture of goodwill by publications in these instances can’t be under-estimated.
“One of the business concerns within news organizations is that relaxing the paywall for major events will cannibalize paid consumption,” said the authors. “But this dynamic is effectively counteracted by an expansion where consumers who weren’t willing to pay before have now gotten a taste of the content. One of the underlying factors that may also contribute to the positive effects of relaxed paywall subscription during certain times of important news is the public service aspect of the gesture, which helps to build trust with the public and the news consumer.”
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