Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Washington Post rather sheepishly announces it will launch its metered paywall on June 12; $9.99 a month for website access, $14.99 for access to all digital content

To celebrate my daughter's 16th birthday, The Washington Post announced that they would launch their new metered paywall on June 12. Well, actually, they didn't mention my daughter's birthday, but I can't think of any other reason they would have picked that date, can you?

The paper's paywall will cost readers $9.99 per month for access to the website, while readers who want access to the paper's apps as well will be faced with a $14.99 monthly bill. By way of comparison, the NYT is charging $15 every four weeks for unlimited access to their website plus the mobile app, a rather ridiculous $35 for their All Digital Access package – a lot of money for a company that appears allergic to launching new app products.

Those who read less than 20 articles a month on the WaPo's website will not run into the new metered paywall, continuing a strategy employed by most U.S. papers with paywalls. Those that have tried to shut down their sites completely to nonpaying customers generally have opened their sites back up at some point.

But like most metered paywalls, savvy readers will never to pay as the paper says it won't block readers who enter the site through links and search engines – so scared are publishers of readers bumping into the paywall off of Google search results that they intentionally open up a massive hole in their paid content strategy.

Reader comments, of course, are negative – but this is par for the course.

The real problem I have with the WaPo's announcement is simply that like all other announcements of paywalls it fails to follow the simple rule that when introducing a fee one needs to also introduce a benefit.

Newspapers are incredibly bad at explaining the benefits of the paywall – and when their doesn't appear to be any benefits, holding off with the announcement until there are. I can think of lots of things that could accompanied this rollout announcement: a new app (which was actually released a while ago), access to commenting (want to comment, be a subscriber), etc.

I think the reason newspapers have gotten so bad about these things is that the ad people are not taking a back seat. They know that in any sales situation it is benefits that sell, features reinforce. But content people are sheepish about selling their policies, so the WaPo announcement sounds like an apology.

The newspaper’s publisher, Katharine Weymouth, said the company would “listen to reader feedback and modify our model accordingly. . . . There is going to be a great deal of experimentation ahead to strike the right balance between ensuring access to critical news and information and building a sustainable business.”

The Post has been cautious about following the lead of other newspapers that have instituted what is commonly known as a paywall. Some senior executives have worried that the paper would lose too many readers, especially from the national audience outside the District. Others, however, have argued that the paper needs to build new sources of revenue and that readers are growing used to the idea of paying for newspaper content online.