Making money on the Internet is harder in some ways than it used to be.
To survive in a mature market, companies are moving content and features behind paywalls. Subscriptions, a key indicator of this, are up; subscription eCommerce is expected to hit $904.2 billion worldwide by 2026. Consumers are finally realizing that good content has a cost. That cost was usually paid by advertising in the past. Today, the solution is often a paywall. Is a paywall the right solution for your business?
Paywalls Are Reaching Mainstream Acceptance
Every brand has assets with value to their audience. Paywalls are used to protect the value of those assets — the things you wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) just give away for free.
Game companies have long been ahead of the curve here. Many of the biggest live service games in the world, like Fortnite, Destiny 2 and League of Legends, use paywalls to gate their best content, and smaller companies like Failbetter Games (creator of browser game Fallen London) have created profitable and successful businesses as well. Size isn’t important; recognizing the value of the assets that exist is the key to a successful paywall strategy.
Other industries are following suit. From entertainment companies like Spotify or College Humor to knowledge sellers like Coursera or news organizations like the New York Times, most organizations that have an online presence offer some type of premium content gated through a paywall.
Paywalls work across a wide variety of industries and strategies. They’re not just for news organizations, entertainment publishers and premium content creators. If you have content that your audience values, you should at least consider putting it behind a paywall.
Types of Paywalls
There are four major paywall strategies. You need to understand them all to determine which might work best for your business model.
With a hard paywall, you don’t get to see any content for free. You’re stopped at the headline, with maybe a few lines of text to whet your appetite. To make a hard paywall work, you need something that’s valuable and trusted enough that people already know they want to see it. The Wall Street Journal is probably the best example of a hard paywall in action.
One of the most common for online publishers. You get a certain amount of content or service, then you’re cut off and have to pay. You may hear of a sub-variety of this called a “metered” paywall; this allows users to access a certain amount of any available content until they’re out of page views. The Atlantic and the New Yorker have soft paywalls of this variety. For a non-publisher example, the file-sharing service MEGA puts caps on downloads with a tiered membership service that scales up.
The most common type of paywall, and the one we’d recommend for most of our clients. This involves having free content or services for everyone indefinitely, but offering extra benefits if audience members buy access. Many YouTube or Twitch-first content creators do this; YouTube creators Mythical (of Rhett and Link fame) are a great example with their “Mythical Society,” which offers limited access for free members but scales up.
Dynamic paywalls are rare, and only work for online publishers that have a huge audience that they can split into segments. They look similar to a soft paywall, but on the back end, there are algorithms deciding when to make the paywall kick in and what offering to push to the potential subscriber. The New York Times is the most visible example of a dynamic paywall.
Most Should Use Freemium
A freemium paywall functions like a soft paywall, but with a system of tiered assets. The free offering is always available, but there are extras that people can buy.
This model dovetails seamlessly with the content marketing strategy we endorse for a couple of reasons.
- Users are familiar with “trading” an email or other contact method for something free. Free is never free and an email address is often the most valuable asset you can collect from a user. If you can get them in the door with amazing free content and they give you an email address, you’ve got access to build the relationship, establish your value and offer them opportunities to consider paid offerings.
- Content marketing revolves around authority and authenticity. A freemium model gives you the opportunity to demonstrate authority and establish your authentic concern for the user’s interests.
Give away your knowledge, or at least some of it, in exchange for access to the user. Then, offer extra value opportunities for those who want to pay for it.
Paywalls work when they provide more value to their audience than the perceived cost of the paywall. There are three major areas of value you can offer. These aren’t mutually exclusive; they can overlap.
Quality. A lot of games offer higher-tier items behind the paywall. From guns and skins to maps and upgrades, players are often willing to swipe a credit card to get the additional quality. Content providers do the same. Corridor Digital, for example, offers longer videos with unscripted conversations and behind-the-scenes looks beyond its paywall. This goes well beyond its regular free content. Many smaller course providers may provide a lesson as a teaser, then say there’s a full-fledged course behind the paywall. There are plenty of opportunities to provide better goods, services or content to people behind a paywall.
Convenience. Access to all courses in one place. Downloadable “cheat sheets.” Early viewing of important auctions or new lines of products before the “public”. Anything you can think of that allows people to swap money for time and privilege would fall in the convenience category.
Access. Discord server access, private forums, direct contact with the people who run the company … these are all aspects of access that can be tied to a paywall. This is a powerful benefit for any brand that already has a strong community. A paywall can offer community members a place that’s specialized for their interests.
Don’t just arbitrarily split content into “in front of paywall” and “behind paywall.” Higher-value content should be built from the ground up with the paywall in mind. If there isn’t real value for your audience when they pay for content, you’re not going to get any sign ups or generate any revenue. Poorly executed, a paywall strategy can destroy all the value you’ve built through your content strategy.
To Paywall or Not to Paywall
If you can offer your audience extra value beyond what they already get for free, a paywall can be a great move. It can offer you extra avenues to engage with your audience, create dedicated fans and community, and generate revenue for your business.
But don’t go into it half-cocked. Use these tips to decide for yourself if the paywall is worth it for your business. And if it is, you can turn your content into customers. Need a hand? Rainmaker Platform offers a variety of solutions including MemberPress and WooCommerce integration, and we’ve helped many of our clients set up paywalls of their own. Just drop us a line, anytime.
Rainmaker Digital Services