National emergencies, disasters and pandemics. The magnitude of events like these give rise to conversations around the information imperative: when does information become a necessity or requirement, rather than a nice to have or revenue generating asset. For publishers and content creators this brings into question paywalls and the fundamentals of their business.
In the modern era of publishing, paywalls and the resulting subscriptions are a core component of a business. With advertising on the decline (and plummeting during the current Covid-19 pandemic) and print-based subscriptions experiencing limited to negative growth, digital paywall-driven subscriptions are one of the biggest ways to drive revenue and keep the lights on. With the common consensus across both readers and publishers being that Covid-19 content is indeed an information imperative, here are a few of the evolving strategies publishers are employing to meet the demand for necessary Covid-19 information.
Dropping the Paywall Entirely
This is a strategy of bygone paywall eras is not recommended overall (nor do many publishers still have to fully drop their paywall). Paywall and segmentation technology have advance rapidly in the last 5-10 years and can accommodate flexible paywall strategies that don’t require the complete removal of the paywall and subsequent new subscription revenue. If your only option is to fully remove the paywall due to older technology or no resources, I highly recommend reevaluating the current strategies driving your business decisions and technology. With the new digital reality emerging, now is the perfect time to explore new options that allow for revenue and information access to co-exist.
Dropping a Portion of the Paywall
Currently, many publishers employ a dual strategy: some content is free with no metering and other content is metered and/or locked behind a paywall. For many organizations, tagging and/or writing a rule that makes anything with the terms Coronavirus and/or Covid-19 in the headline or article free, is a simple way to ensure readers get the information they need. This leaves the remainder of content under the previous paywall rules, and allows for the information imperative to be met, while sports, leisure etc. operates as usual. This hybrid approach provides the flexibility and adaptability to support future growth strategies as well, since it allows publishers to change, edit or remove the rules around content access.
Adjusting the Paywall Metering Rules
The other large contingency of publishers employs a full metering strategy. In order to provide the necessary information, there are multiple ways to set up your articles and paywall to ensure that Coronavirus/Covid-19 is freely available to readers and is not counted in metering.
Creating a Coronavirus tag allows you to leverage metadata to single out this specific topic and remove its impact on the meter totals. In affect the meter impact is 0 as opposed to non-existent like the approach above. This approach is the most specific automatic rule that can be put into place to balance free content vs metered content. Consider this strategy if this is a net new situation for your company or you want the ability to track Coronavirus activity specifically.
Create a more generic specialty tag that designates the content as free. In doing this you have a generic tag that can be used for other situations (or may have already been established) in which content may need to be free. The downside is it is harder to track articles tied to specific events/activities/topics once you use this tag in multiple situations so create and use tags thoughtfully. Consider this strategy if you already have a tag or strategy like this you have used before.
Bringing a More Human Element to Access
In speaking with a colleague another interesting strategy came up. We saw at one of our major newspapers that instead of having a hard and fast rule in place, the newspaper allowed reporters/editors to use a specific tag to indicate the article shouldn’t be counted against the paywall. This is a unique way to add a human element to whether the content should be considered an imperative. While still requiring the business decision that Coronavirus content should be free, and the technical setup for the designated tag, this strategy can help uncover information that may have slipped through the cracks and empower the organization to take an active role in disseminating valuable information.
Whether your organization has already taken steps to modify your paywall strategy or you are looking for the right approach, knowing your options can help you find the right fit for you.