I am currently exploring the various avenues for making money from online news as part of my MA Online Journalism.

Over a series of Posts I hope to explore the various methods of generating revenue from online content – looking at the various issues, and pitfalls along the way.

The Project

My idea is a website that offers short, exclusive video interviews with bands – often bands that would not get mainstream coverage elsewhere (e.g. radio and television) but have a small, but cult, following.

The Money Making Options

  • Paywall
  • Standard Banner Ads
  • Ad-content (more on this in future posts)


First, then – the big talking point of the moment, Paywalls.

I would not even consider a paywall model, were I providing standard, general interest news that could be read anywhere. Why would people want to pay for my content, if they could read it for free on a rival site? The beauty of the internet is the sheer volume of material out there, and the means by which to get at it. Websites, RSS feeds, email, social networks – they are all serious competition now for the news outlet.

“The Times”
Image by tripu via Flickr

The Times is attempting to do exactly this with their paywall. Initial figures are not healthy (losing 2 thirds of their online readership). Of course, that means a third of their readers are happy to pay £2 a week for online news – and those figures may eventually work in their favour, who knows. This is The Times, however, they had more readers to play with in the first place. A small local paper that attempted a paywall would be looking at 33% of not-very-much – an impossible situation.

There have been more successful attempts at a Paywall, all of them offering something unique to the reader (the old ad-men phrase of the USP) be it useful information (in the example of the FT or Wall Street Journal), or “celeb-toriety” (right wing commentator RushLimbaugh in the USA). In fact, many of us already accept paywalls as a way of life – Sky TV subscriptions anyone? Again – offering something that you cannot get for free elsewhere.

The question really is not, WILL people pay for “exclusive” content, but how much?

The Content

  • The content I am offering is exclusive video interviews with bands.
  • These will be video interviews, which are quick to digest, interesting to watch and entertaining.
  • The bands I am interviewing are small enough not to get mainstream media coverage (radio or TV) hence the content has a unique value
  • The bands have a cult following within their field and there is a genuine interest in their activities
  • Content will tend to gathered in batches (ie at festivals) so there is an opportunity to promote interest between similar bands

The Audience

  • This audience are not a business audience – they are music fans (teenagers, early 20’s) who consume their magazines, news etc online via social networks, websites and apps.
  • They will be happy shopping online, and in theory, would be comfortable using Paypal to sign up to a site
  • However, would they see the value of this content? And how much would they be willing to pay for it?

Maintaining the Exclusivity

This is icon for social networking website. Th...
Image via Wikipedia

I would go to great lengths to maintain the exclusivity of this content – attending small niche festivals where no other media is interviewing, locking the content as private on video website Viddler,  and embedding it behind a subscription page on my own site.

The downside of this is that the content itself cannot be shared, passed on or promoted – only the link to the page – for which you would need to have paid to access.

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2 thoughts on “Making Online News Pay – Pt 1 paywalls

  1. I agree entirely … in fact I have just started contacting record labels asking if they would like to advertise on the site, but knowing they probably won’t if it’s behind a paywall.

    However, video or slideshow adverts (which I will discuss in the next post) could sit in front of the paywall on the frontpage, and in theory, pass as FREE content.

    Thanks for the feedback Paul

  2. Interesting.

    This relates to my own MA research, which offers up a new connotation.

    Say you are a performer, looking to promote a new album release or tour dates.
    With the immediate restriction of potential audience reach offered by a paywall system, like you say, at 30% of previous audience/readership – I’d argue that there could be valid consideration by the artist at which outlet they give their interview.feature to. The artist could possibly be looking for maximum audience reach and news distribution with every interview/feature given, and the immediate restriction placed on readership by a paywall could give reason for him/her to reconsider which website he/she gives his/her exclusive interview time to.

    In my research (live video streaming and mobile handset use for viewing video content), there appears (so far) to be 2 different types of client:
    1) corporate who have budget and permission to pay for content to be delivered, and,
    2) all others.

    As an aside, budget availability, accountability and justified expenditure currently appear to be driving the market I am researching, not accessibility, connectivity, handset and platform type (Flash vs HTML5 etc).

    If a website is looking to run a paywall, perhaps their potential target audiences would fall into similar scenarios- with the corporate client happier to pay for exclusive content, rather than say, a student (festival visitor) on a restricted budget.

    This does however, leave the artist featured still in a quandary- where will their valuable time given best serve their promotional needs? Will they achieve greater potential audience reach behind a paywalled yet popular (targeted audience) site, or behind a free-to-access general site with a smaller (target) readership?

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