Digital Publishing Reader Revenue
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Fortune becomes the latest publisher to put up a paywall

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US business and technology magazine Fortune has become the latest prominent title to put up a paywall, as publishers double down on reader revenue amid widespread ad decline in the industry.

It follows the sale of the magazine to Thai businessman Chatchaval Jiaravanon by Meredith Corp for $150 million around six months ago.

The paywall is expected to be implemented towards the end of 2019, according to the Wall Street Journal, but there are no details at present about what the pricing model will look like, or whether there will still be some content available before the paywall comes down.

“We’re marching toward a premium model,” said Murray in an interview with the Journal. “The goal is to shift to a greater dependency on consumer revenue, the only way for serious journalism to survive in the current environment.”

Murray also said that the print magazine, currently priced at $6.99, would soon be relaunched with a higher cover price and better-quality paper.

According to the WSJ, Fortune sold 630 pages of advertising last year in its print magazine, which is a 26% year on year decrease. Part of this is due to publishing fewer issues in 2018, but like other publishers, it is seeing a decline in the number of magazines it sells, with newsstand sales averaging 8,206 copies per issue. This is less than half their 2015 levels.

New owner Jiaravanon wants the 90-year-old brand to be an ‘indispensable guide to the new era’. When he first bought the magazine, Vanity Fair reported that ‘Fortune editors have for some time been envisioning a makeover that would reboot Fortune’s print component as more of a luxury product, with a premium price point and perhaps fewer issues.’ It looks like Jiaravanon has been able to make this possible with investment in getting the paywall up, and an acceptance of the inevitable risks it brings: a reduction in traffic, and subsequently ad revenue.

The past year has seen a huge rise in the number of publishers looking to put up paywalls as a way of getting revenue directly from their readers, rather than relying on an increasingly tough advertising landscape.

Fortune rivals New York Media and Business Insider have both launched paywalls of varying styles over the past year or two. Condé Nast announced in January that it would be putting all of its titles behind paywalls by the end of the year, following the successful implementation of paid content offerings for both the New Yorker, and WIRED in early 2018.

According to FIPP’s 2019 Global Digital Subscription Snapshot Report, more than half of publishers have identified subscriptions as their primary revenue focus for next year, signalling a growing confidence in reader revenue.

But with Fortune becoming the latest in a long line of publishers to restrict its content, media organisations should be aware of the risk of subscription fatigue: where readers are only able to pay for a couple of outlets, and so access to good quality content is restricted.

Reuters’ Journalism, Media and Technology Trends and Predictions 2019 report predicts that we could see “growing adoption of ‘subscription blockers’, downloadable software or browser extensions that get round metered paywalls by blocking the javascript that triggers them”, like the ad blocking phenomenon.

Fortune has a wide range of options open to them when it comes to implementing the paywall. Whether they choose to completely shut off access to non-subscribers, or opt for a more flexible, metered option remains to be seen, but it’s certain they won’t be the last publisher to pivot to a paywall.