Implementing a paywall for an online news site, particularly in South Africa where most news is readily available for free online, is a risky move.
But it seems to be paying off for Tiso Blackstar Group. The group’s head of digital, Lisa MacLeod, spoke to The Media Online about why the decision was taken to implement a paywall, and how it has been received by the group’s audience.
Why implement a paywall in the first place?
Running newsrooms is an expensive business. At Tiso Blackstar we have made a very big effort to keep our newsrooms well-staffed and keep our reporting and editing numbers up, when the industry is under pressure from an advertising and circulation perspective. We recognise that content is king.
For many years, we have been asking newspaper readers to pay a cover price for their reading experience, but this strategy has not been followed online. However, most quality publishers now recognise that it is not sustainable in the long term to keep their content on the internet for free. As more and more readers migrate online, and digital advertising revenue remains limited, it is essential to employ strategies involving reader revenue.
Why was a partial paywall for the site (only on select articles) chosen as the revenue generating strategy, as opposed to a full paywall?
It’s a ‘freemium’ paywall, very well-known and the most widely employed model for paywalls internationally. We have chosen comment, analysis and exclusives as premium content, as well as the syndication content from the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal. That means the bulk of the site is free to read, including quick daily breaking news. We will however be making some changes to the mechanics of the site and the paywall in the coming months.
How many paid subscribers does BusinessLIVE have on its platform? How does this compare with previous numbers of visitors to the site before the paywall was implemented as well as current non-paying visitors?
We have close to a million unique browsers on BusinessLIVE every month, and about 60 000 registered users. We are very happy with the paying subscriber take-up as we have surpassed our targets to date, and the new subs represent a 30% uptick on our business subscriber base at Tiso Blackstar.
Why should news seekers still visit BusinessLIVE even though they have to pay for access to some of the content contained on it?
Because it’s a top quality, trusted news site that has invested in the best journalists and editors. Users can visit BusinessLIVE and consume about 70% of the content without paying for it, but complete access to the premium content requires a payment. It’s a site incorporating all the top business titles in South Africa, financial data from Morningstar, the best of the Financial Times and full access to the Wall Street Journal. It’s worth every cent.
Future changes to the paywall model?
We have some interesting changes coming down the line. As we hit the 18-month point, it’s time for a site refresh, and maybe a few extra added value surprises for new subscribers and loyal readers alike.
Michael Bratt is a multimedia journalist at Wag the Dog, publishers of The Media Online and The Media. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelBratt8