By putting up a metered paywall in January, the Atlantic joins a raft of publications that are launching paid products online
Nearly 10 years ago, the Atlantic tore down its paywall in an effort to grow its digital audience. Next year, it’s putting it back up again.
Beginning in January, the Atlantic will launch a metered paywall that will kick in after readers access 10 articles for free in a given month, said Bob Cohn, president of the Atlantic.
“More than a million people come to our site 10 times or more every month,” Mr. Cohn said. “What we’re doing now is we’re saying to that group: ‘Help us continue to expand our journalism.’”
By putting up a paywall, the Atlantic joins a raft of publications, including Wired, Business Insider and CNN, that have announced plans to launch paid products recently to diversify their revenue in a digital ad market increasingly dominated by Google and Facebook. In recent weeks, BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti and Refinery29 co-founders Justin Stefano and Philippe von Borries have also been emphasizing the importance of building diverse revenue streams in the face of economic headwinds for media.
Mr. Cohn said the decision to launch a paywall wasn’t “a desperation move” for the Atlantic, which he says is on pace to increase its total revenue in 2017 over the previous year. He said that the company has seen growth in its digital advertising, events, consulting and print circulation businesses but declines in its print advertising business. He declined to provide specific figures.
The magazine’s leadership wanted to seize upon the increasing enthusiasm among consumers to pay for news and entertainment online, Mr. Cohn said.
“We’re looking around and seeing peers who we respect getting people to pay for their digital content,” he said. “We live in a world of Netflix and Hulu and Spotify, where people are willing to pay for digital services.”
Readers will be able to choose between three pricing tiers: one that provides full access to the Atlantic’s site and app, one that provides full web access plus a subscription to the print magazine, and one that provides both print and digital access plus admission to the Masthead, the Atlantic’s membership group. Perks for Masthead members include a digital subscription to the Atlantic, a daily newsletter, special access to the magazine’s journalists and exclusive journalism.
A spokesperson for the Atlantic said the magazine will launch with annual pricing equivalent to “one fairly nice cup of coffee per month.” The final price is still being determined. The third tier, Masthead membership, costs $120 annually.
This year, the Atlantic has averaged nearly 20 million online readers a month, a more than 20% increase from 2016, according to comScore.
Although the Atlantic will launch its paywall with its meter set at 10 articles a month, the company will undergo testing to determine the number that maximizes overall digital revenue, Mr. Cohn said.
Finding the right balance can be a delicate calculation, explains Matt Lindsay, the president of the paywall consultancy firm Mather Economics. If a paywall triggers after one or two articles, it could discourage people from reading and affect digital advertising revenue, he said. But if it triggers after 20 articles, only a small fraction of a publication’s total audience may see the paywall and subscribe, he said.
“You have to find this sweet spot where the number of sales attempts and your conversion rate generate the maximum number of subscribers,” Mr. Lindsay said. There are also other factors to consider, including adjusting the article limit time frame beyond the standard month or customizing the article limit for individual readers, he said.
A spokesperson for the Atlantic said they don’t expect the paywall to cause a significant dip in website traffic.
Since 2016, the Atlantic has asked readers who use ad blockers to disable them for theatlantic.com or purchase an ad-free subscription. It hasn’t been determined whether that practice will continue under the new program.
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