Master the Content Paywall Strategy to Turn Content into Revenue

What’s a content paywall strategy? This post has everything you need to know about using a paywall to entice readers.

Content Paywall Strategy

Image Source: WSJ


How do you achieve secure revenue streams? Many businesses use various strategies.


For example; if you are an app developer, you will likely invest in localization software testing to ensure your product is suitable for multiple markets. 


If you’re in ecommerce, you might be looking at integrating customer feedback with your product development processes and auditing templatesleading to a more agile and feedback-rich production process. But if your business is all about content, things can be a little trickier. There’s so much competition out there—not to mention that many people expect content for free.


Have you considered using a content paywall strategy? Maybe you have, but you’re unsure because you’re concerned it’s not a sure thing and could backfire. Well, in this article, we’re going to dig deep into what content paywalls are, what types are available, and the benefits and potential disadvantages of having one on your site.

What Is a Content Paywall?

A paywall is a tool for blocking content for those who have not paid a fee to view it. It’s used by online publishers as a way of diversifying revenue streams. It’s a relatively common sight online nowadays, so you’re bound to have come across it. 


The concept of the paywall was pioneered in 1997 by The Wall Street Journal, but paywalls didn’t become commonplace until many years later. Over time, though, it’s become an integral part of many online publishers’ financial strategies. With their widespread adoption, paywalls have become an integral part of every website design proposal or software proposal template for a modern content provider.

To understand why this is, it’s crucial to grasp just how radically the advent of the web changed the publishing industry’s business model. Traditionally, publishers generated a much more considerable proportion of their revenue from advertising than copy sales. It meant that, contrary to how most people thought of publishing, the readers of newspapers and magazines were not publishers’ primary customers: advertisers were.


Essentially, for a very long time, publishers were in the business of selling audiences to advertisers rather than selling news or content to readers. In many ways, the purpose of the content published was to attract particular demographics of audiences, who, in turn, functioned as the primary product.


However, a study from the Pew Research Center found that subscription revenue was higher than ad revenue for the first time in 2020. It reflected a revolutionary change in the industry, and paywalls had a very important part in this development.

content paywall stats

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It’s no wonder that this represented something of upheaval for publishers. Over a relatively small number of years, they had to completely change their business model to survive in a competitive market.


While not all could feasibly implement paywalls, many tried. As time went on, several successful models for paywalls began to emerge. Generally, they fall into two categories: hard paywalls and soft paywalls.

Hard paywalls

A hard paywall is the original “computer says no” option. It appears on the landing page and won’t let you read any content on the site at all until you pay to do so. It’s technologically simple to implement and straightforward to use. In practice, it’s only publishers with a solid brand reputation that can make this type of paywall work. Publishers in anything other than the top tier will struggle to get people to sign up.

Soft paywalls

As publishers experimented with paywalls, however, they found that they sometimes got better results with a mixed access option. Hence the introduction of the soft paywall. Along with other strategies, such as interactive marketing campaigns, soft paywalls can be very effective in growing your audience. There are a few different commonly used models: 


Metered access: These allow the reader access to a fixed number of articles before requiring payment. It’s the digital “try before you buy” approach.


Freemium: This model makes some free content available, while other premium content is hidden behind the paywall.


Dynamic: A more recent invention, this makes data-driven, personalized access offers available to the reader.

Benefits and Disadvantages of Paywalls

So should paywalls form part of your commercial proposal? It depends on several factors. Before making a decision, it’s vital to be aware of both the upsides and downsides of having a paywall on your site. 


First, here are a few of the benefits:

Regular revenue from subscriptions

It is the key motivator for trying a paywall strategy, and it can work. As long as you can attract a sufficiently loyal readership, a paywall can boost your bottom line and put your business on a secure footing.  


It does mean you need to have to be consistent about producing content that people find desirable. It’s one thing to attract new subscribers in the first place, but another thing entirely to retain them. Relying on a paywall to generate digital content subscription revenue means keeping on top of the creative process seven days a week.

Opportunity for community building

Another valuable but often overlooked aspect of having paywalls is the potential for building a close-knit community of subscribers. After all, anyone paying for your content will likely engage with it regularly.   


You can encourage the creation of such a community by making spaces available for them to interact with one another. These can be virtual spaces like member forums, but if you have a large enough user base, you can also branch out with real-life subscriber-only events. 


This can be valuable for subscriber retention because once your customers have made real friends via this community, they’ll be less likely to want to leave and thus lose their subscriber privileges.

More valuable advertising audience

Although the impact a paywall will have on your overall advertising revenue will be mixed (more of which later), there is one clear benefit. It’s because you have curated a specific audience with disposable income, it will be attractive to advertisers. So those advertisers who do decide to place ads with you can be charged a premium.


However, it’s not all good news for advertising, so let’s kick off the list of paywall disadvantages with the downside: 

Less ad revenue overall

That’s right. While you will probably be able to charge a premium for the advertising you do run, realistically, many more advertisers will be discouraged by the reduced audience size. However, frankly, the whole point of instituting a paywall is to move toward a more subscription-based revenue model, so as long as it’s working for you, this will be less of a concern. 

Regular quality checks required

Since the paywall model will fail if the quality of the content doesn’t justify it, you need to ensure the quality is consistently good. That means investment. It means paying the best writers and editors to create the best product. Alternatively, if your business deals in video rather than written content, it could mean using a data warehouse analytics solution to keep track. 

Fewer backlinks

Paywalls can negatively affect SEO. To a certain extent, that’s just unavoidable. The heavy lifting that organic social media sharing does for a content marketing strategy won’t be there for you. Some operators mediate this problem a little by offering gift links to subscribers. 


The idea is that your existing subscribers can give links to free versions of individual pieces of content to others. It is worth considering because doing it can also help attract new subscribers. 

Things to Consider Before Implementing a Paywall

Some businesses will thrive with a paywall; others will wilt. So, there are a few questions it’s crucial to think about before setting up a paywall on your site. 

Where does your revenue come from?

This is the first and most important question. If you’re considering a paid subscription model, you need to be sure that your audience is in the clause of the waiver and willing to hand over their hard-earned money. If you are already heavily dependent on advertising revenue, a paywall may represent a relatively risky strategy.

Who is your audience?

On the other hand, if you produce content in quite a narrow niche, that may not matter. If most of your audience is from a specific subgroup of individuals interested in a specialized topic, they will likely be more willing to pay for content that caters to their interests than a general audience. That’s because there will be less high-quality content available elsewhere.

What will your audience want to pay for?

Even if you attract a specific audience, that’s only half the battle. Suppose you run a site giving tips for small businesses. Will your audience of entrepreneurs be prepared to pay for quote and proposal software reviews, or should those be left freely available to draw people in? Once you delve into the details, figuring out what to put behind a paywall can be a complex task. 

The Future of Publishing Revenue

Ultimately, paywalls are becoming increasingly refined as a revenue generation option. Any content-producing business that’s looking to get ready for the future should think about using one. With the right strategy and careful implementation, a paywall can boost your revenue and provide a solid foundation for future growth. So, ask yourself this: could a paywall be right for your business?