With the Kansas City Star set to establish a new paywall for digital content on Dec. 5, the newspaper’s executives might want to implement some of the ideas from two social scientists who studied the New York Times’ implementation of a paywall and what made it successful.
An article about the research by the authors appears in the November edition of the peer-reviewed journal “Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.”
“The pay-for-access policies adopted by The New York Times and many other media outlets will succeed only if consumers believe they’re justified by financial necessity,” says a new report by Jonathan Cook of Columbia University and Shahzeen Attari of Indiana University.
So far, Mi-Ai Parrish, the Publisher at the Star, does not seem to be giving subscribers very compelling reasons to start paying for digital content at the McClatchy-owned newspaper.
“I recognize that charging even a few cents more isn’t necessarily popular, but we hope you’ll recognize that it is a logical strategy to enable us to provide quality local news and information in the increasingly myriad ways people reach us,” she wrote in a note to subscribers.
The scientists’ research of 954 customers shows The New York Times lost readers by failing to fully explain the need for what’s known as a paywall. Times readers must pay between $15 and $35 per month for Internet content that previously was free.
According to their study, the New York Times introduced a paywall in March saying it wanted to strengthen the company’s “journalistic mission” and allow “digital innovations.”
However, when readers were told compelling justification for the paywall—that the Times was likely to go bankrupt, “their support and willingness to pay increased,” Cook and Attari concluded.
Times readers who thought the paywall was merely an effort to improve the newspaper’s bottom line, on the other hand, visited the website less frequently and looked for loopholes to avoid the charges.
“While The New York Times’ paywall may have gotten off to a halting start, it is now regarded as a qualified success within the industry,” Indiana University said in a news release.
“The newspaper reports about 500,000 paid digital subscribers and has taken a series of steps to close the loopholes that allowed unlimited free access to articles. The Chicago Tribune, The Indianapolis Star and dozens of smaller newspapers either have paywalls or are considering implementing them, according to Media Life Magazine.
“Those publishers would benefit from The New York Times’ mistake by more thoroughly justifying the new charges, Cook and Attari suggested.”
Those publishers should also consider this cautionary note: a majority of The New York Times readers surveyed by Cook and Attari said they wouldn’t pay for content and made good on their threat, often by switching to free providers.
“The decline reported in our study is echoed in the decrease of over 3.3 million unique website visitors reported in The New York Times marketing materials between the spring of 2011 and 2012,” Cook and Attari wrote.