New approaches to paid content in Europe

Mediapart digital subscriptions

What online content will people pay for?  And how can publishers balance what they keep free and what is locked down?

Across Europe news media have been experimenting with different paid content models, and the Media Briefing’s recent report compiles a wide range of case studies.  I’ve picked out the ideas that caught my eye, and which might provide inspiration for business to business and consumer specialist publishers as well as news media.


1.    Metering

There’s a wide spectrum of metering models.  The hard core Times, long an advocate of locked down content now allows registered readers to consume two free articles a week. The Economist is equally tight, permitting a measly 3 articles a week.  SZ plus of Germany is a little looser, giving access to 10 articles a week.  The National, published by Newsquest in Scotland, allows free access to 5 articles every 30 days, and registered users get 10 articles a month.

The relatively lax Liberation (France) allows registered readers to make 7 visits in 10 days, presumably to build up a habit, and have a visible countdown.  They do manage to convert 0.1% to paying subs a month, or 1.2% over a year, and now 5% of their audience pay. El Espanol has a generous meter, giving access to 25 articles a month, but finds it harder to convert them to paid.

The message seems to be to experiment with the level of metering access, with newer publications allowing more extensive access to build a reading habit.


2.    Hard walls

The challenge in operating a hard paywall as opposed to metering is deciding what should be on the free section and what must be paid for.  Le Monde leaves time sensitive news as free, but puts exclusive content, opinion and features behind the paywall.  The newsroom makes these editorial decisions daily, rather than following a set formula.  They now have 110k paid online subs. Aftenposten now place 50% of their content behind the pay wall – up from 15-20% two years ago.

The consensus is that news is less distinctive, and is generally placed outside the paywall, while analysis, comment, and more in depth exclusive features can be placed behind a wall.


3.    Bundling

SZ plus has grown digital subs by 30% pa to 50k.  One third of their digital subs have come from bundles for print readers, adding on digital for €7.50.  They offer different packages, such as weekdays digital, weekends print.  Aftenposten offer a similar print/digital package, reflecting different reading habits.

So persuading current print subscribers to upgrade or switch to digital seems to be a sensible approach.


4.    Promotions

Very low cost trials are popular – eg French news pureplay Mediapart offer a 15 day sub for €1, when the full rate is €11/month.  They have built up 128k paid online subs, and offer subscribers their own blogs, generating 35,000 posts a year.  Aftenposten offer the first month at Kr1. De Correspondent from the Netherlands has 52k digital subs.  They put no limit on the distribution of content via social media, and offer subscribers free e-letters from individual journalists.

The Economist runs direct response ads, which direct prospects to one free piece of content, and their social media team manage channels with total reach of 40m.  In 2016 The Times updated its mobile edition and now updates content at key times: 9am, 12pm, 5pm, resulting in a 9% increase in engagement.  Verdens Gang in Norway has had success with flash sales – offering 50% off for a day attracted 4000 subs.

So several media businesses are using social media to distribute taster content, and then offering very low cost trials. Flash sales also appear worth a test. Mediapart’s approach of building engagement with their subscribers through a blogging platform is also interesting,


5.    Pricing

Newspapers are more likely to charge a monthly subscription, ranging from €4.99 (Bild) to €9.99 (Corriere della Sera) all the way up to €17.50 for Le Monde.  Most also offer an annual option c€60.  SZ plus also offers a day pass at €1.99.  A digital add-on for print subscribers is usually competitively priced, eg €7.50 for SZ plus.


All in an interesting mix of approaches to both metered and hard paywalls, but with encouraging results, driven by print upgrade bundles, free trials, flash sales and social media teaser content.  Certainly worth watching how these experiments develop.

You can download the full report on European paid digital content here.

If you’d like to discuss how you might be able to develop your own paid digital subscription strategy, I’d be happy to share some thoughts over the phone or over a coffee.  Just get in touch.

About the author:

Carolyn Morgan has over twenty years experience launching, growing, buying and selling specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events. Carolyn now advises publishers large and small on their digital strategy and writes and speaks on digital publishing strategy.