Digital Publishing Reader Revenue
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Rise of the ‘timewall’: How publishers are playing with time in their paywall strategies

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Recent research from INMA shows that globally only 39% of national media outlets charge for their digital content. Of these, 47% of the paywalls use the freemium model, in which most content is available to everyone but select premium content is available only for paying subscribers.

One growing type of paywall that stands out is the ‘timewall’, which is a paywall that uses time as the decider of when to go up or down. Join us as we explore how publishers in Germany, the US, and Sweden play with time in their paywall strategies.

Madsack: Gamify frequent visits

In Germany, Madsack launched a timewall in mid-2019 that allows new content to be free for the first hour, then it goes behind the paywall. With a goal of 25k new subscriptions with this strategy in the first 18 months, after just six months they were already halfway to their goal.

The time wall offers readers new incentives to opt for a subscription faster and more often, for example compared to conventional paid content models.

Bernhard Bahners, Chief Digital Officer at Madsack

As content is free for the first hour after publication, readers are incentivised to frequently visit the website, in order to ensure they do not miss an article. This has helped to gamify the user experience and drive increased frequency, which is key for retention.

While the preliminary results have been positive for Madsack, the actual impact of the free first hour on subscription conversions is not fully clear. Analysis of web traffic indicates a shift in usage towards the free first hour, even for content that is not put behind the timewall.

BoiseDev: Subscriber-first access

BoiseDev, a mico-news site in the US, might be credited with bringing the timewall terminology to the wider industry. In this configuration, paying members are the first to receive local news stories via a newsletter, which are then published on the website the day after.

For publisher Don Day, this approach is important for the delicate balance between providing local news to those that need it, while also ensuring there is a sustainable business model.

The time wall approach allows for members of our business-focused content to get a tangible perk while keeping the paywall down.

Don Day, publisher of BoiseDev

Earlier this year, BoiseDev met its first-year membership goal, something the team is proud of as they have been able to generate tens of thousands of dollars in reader revenue without ‘locking the public out‘ of a single article.

Mittmedia: First hour free

While BoiseDev puts articles behind the timewall for subscribers before later opening up to everyone, MittMedia in Sweden takes the opposite approach. Their research found that only 20% of new subscribers that converted on a specific article were acquired in the first 60 minutes that content was available. The vast majority were instead acquired later on, which showed to the team that the paid content business is the long-tail business model.

So they decided to take a timewall strategy that puts articles out for free for the first hour after publication, with visitors seeing a countdown clock that shows how much time remains in an article’s free read period. After the one hour is up, the article becomes premium content, accessible only with a paid subscription. This strategy has helped MittMedia increase subscriber conversions 20%.

It’s something that could be easily adopted by other publishers as well; it took the team at MittMedia just two weeks to build and launch the timewall.

Mary-Katharine Phillips
Media innovation analyst @ Twipe

Original content republished with permission of Twipe