Advertising Reader Revenue
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For publishers, subscriptions evolution meets commercial concerns

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The subscriptions revolution has been underway for a few years now. But the reader revenue landscape is not as simple as publishers might wish it to be.

In a subscriptions evolution, last week saw Quartz drop its paywall to refocus its membership efforts on email, while The Guardian announced that it would be testing a paid app alongside its ‘contribute-if-you-can’ model.


  • As digital advertising rates have slipped over the past five years or so, reader revenue has come to be seen as something of a saviour strategy for many publishers. Soaring success by publications like the New York Times have inspired media organisations of all types to put up paywalls in the hope of swapping the vagaries of ad funding for more predictable reader revenue streams.
  • But as recent developments have shown, subscriptions are not a one-size-fits-all solution to publishings revenue challenges. And against the backdrop of consumer cutbacks that have seen Netflix, Amazon and Disney+ all lose subscribers in the UK in the first quarter of 2022, publishers have been considering their options.
  • Quartz announced that it is dropping its paywall after internal research showed that most paying members access its content via email. In contrast, the Guardian, with £68.7 million in contributions for its open-access journalism, is testing paid options for its news app, banking that regular users will pay for increased convenience.

Emails and advertising

  • Last week, Quartz dropped its four-year old member paywall and is refocusing its member benefits on exclusive emails. The shift came after internal data showed that three quarters of members preferred to consume their content via newsletter, and in the last quarter of 2021, email became its largest platform for traffic.
  • Quartz 25,000 paying members will receive exclusive access to two premium emails: the Quartz Weekend Brief, which sums up the past week, and The Forecast, which looks far ahead to emerging trends and industries. While content on is open, returning users are likely to be asked to register.
  • Commenting on the move, Jacob Donnelly said that he believed Quartz was finding it difficult to secure subscriptions, having previously described their broad content focus as ‘this weird middleground’. Now he says the site is well placed to re-focus on advertising sales. He said:

I suspect that the people reading Quartz are desirable from an advertising perspective. Quartz is in a good place to start selling high-quality advertising again.

Mission focussed  

  • Known around the world as a bastion of open-access journalism, The Guardian is testing a different approach with its news app. The paper already offers readers a paid ‘Editions app that features a curated collection of stories every day. These tests may be focused on finding the right price point for a single app that combines the curation, discovery and ad-free features of existing products.
  • The Guardian’s paid app strategy relies on a small but loyal group of readers willing to pay for the convenience of accessing Guardian content through a well designed app, despite that content remaining free on The Guardian’s website. Similarly Quartz members are motivated more by the publication’s mission than perks of membership.
  • Writing on What’s New In Publishing Esther Kezia Thorpe said of the two changing subscription approaches:

Reader revenue isn’t about what type of paywall, how much content to give away for free, or fancy membership perks. It is first and foremost the marriage of a good product and a mission that the readers believe in.

This piece was originally published in Spiny Trends and is re-published with permission. Spiny Trends is a division of, a content analytics and revenue generation platform for digital publishers. For weekly updates and analysis on the industry news you need as a media and publishing business, subscribe to Spiny’s Trends weekly email roundup here.