Updated 12/11/2013 10:21 a.m.
When former Wall Street Journal writer Jessica Lessin launched her business and tech news site The Information last week, she surprised many in the news industry by going with a hard paywall, in which only paid subscribers may access the site and its content, as her business model.
Lessin talked with GigaOM's Mathew Ingram about how and why she chose to use a paywall. From the interview, IJNet gleaned a few questions that publishers should ask themselves before choosing a subscription-only model for their news sites:
1. Who is my potential audience?
Lessin saw an opportunity “to go after a specific market that she felt wasn’t really being served by the paper — primarily insiders working in the tech industry and related businesses such as venture capital,” Ingram writes. “And to help nail down the audience she was aiming for, she said she identified half a dozen actual people who became archetypes for her ideal reader: product managers at Dropbox, vice presidents at Apple, sales managers at Oracle, etc.”
2. Why would the audience pay for this content?
The content should be something they can’t get anywhere else, and Lessin thinks that is what she can deliver the business professionals who make up her target audience. She told Ingram, “They’re professionals inside and outside of tech, an audience that pays for information that’s going to make them smarter and give them an edge and to be ahead of the curve.”
3. What can my potential audience afford to pay?
Lessin’s news service costs $399 a year and has no free content or “leaks” in its paywall. Expensive, right? But many of her users have expense accounts they can use to pay for business information.
Most sites, however, will be serving an audience that doesn’t have that luxury. Publishers of those sites should consider whether their audience can afford a lower price, or if they are better off avoiding the paywall model completely. (A few other models to consider are covered here.)
4. How will I attract new readers if my content is behind a paywall?
Lessin says before launch, she talked with staff at other sites to make sure they were willing to highlight stories from The Information and link back to the site.
She witnessed the importance of links for bringing new users when she was at The Wall Street Journal, which also used a paywall. “What would happen pretty consistently at the Journal was that if there was news, someone would aggregate it and then link back to us," she told Ingram. "I think that’s an important part of the ecosystem — and if people see a consistent number of articles linked back to us that might pique their interest" and encourage them to subscribe in the future.
Image CC-licensed on Flickr via mfhiatt.