Men’s magazine Esquire has joined the throng of publications experimenting with online paywalls, asking readers to pay a $1.99 fee to read a feature from its August issue called The Prophet.
Ad Week’s Emma Bazilian says it is the first time Esquire has made such a request of its online readership. The 10,000-word Luke Dittrich story — about a neurosurgeon named Dr. Eben Alexander who wrote a bestselling book about claiming to see God during a weeklong coma — was a perfect peg for the magazine to try a fee, editor-in-chief David Granger told Ad Week.
“We spend a huge amount of time and effort and money on chasing a story like this,” he said. “We wanted to see if we could get people to pay for it. They pay for it in the magazine and the iPad app, so we thought we’d give it a shot.” (Esquire readers can also buy e-books of stories from the magazine’s archives, published in partnership with Byliner.)
So far the purchase rate among readers is 3 to 4 percent, Bazilian writes.
Also this week, Fairfax Media launched a digital subscription model for the Sydney Morning-Herald and The Age on Tuesday. The new paywall “will allow users to access 30 articles per month free of charge before being asked to pay, with subscription packages ranging from $15 to $44 per month,” AdNews reports. The Age editor-in-chief Andrew Holden called the change to the websites and apps “an important step in the future of our newsrooms.”
Trinity Mirror, which publishes the U.K.’s Mirror and Sunday Mirror, doesn’t seem to agree with paywall strategies, but is still investing online. The company announced Wednesday that it would hire 25 more digital editorial staff, doubling the department to increase online publishing to 2,000 articles per week, the Guardian’s Mark Sweney reports. The company cut 90 jobs from its regional newspapers in January. Sweeney says Trinity Mirror hopes to add more readers after the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sun puts up a paywall this summer.
News UK CEO Mike Darcey says paywalls are working, citing that his company’s Times has recorded 140,000 paying subscribers online “mainly on the tablet.” Media Week’s Arif Durrani writes that Darcey doesn’t consider competition from free sites to be a novel concern.
Darcey, the former BSkyB leader, continued: “Competition from free is not a new idea”. He noted The Times has been behind the paywall since 1785, while “free” (at the point of consumption) alternatives have evolved, from the town crier to free newssheets, to radio, television and 24-hour rolling news.
He said: “Throughout that time. The paid-for news industry has had to make sure its offering is distinctive, differentiated from those free options, offering added value and articulating why it is worth paying for. And that remains the game today.”