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Digital publishing trends 2020 - 9. Are paywalls really the next big revenue opportunity?

  • 01 January 2020 by
  • Krishna Kumar
Digital publishing trends 2020 - 9. Are paywalls really the next big revenue opportunity?

By the second half of 2018, B2C publishers were beginning to see an uptick in paid digital subscriptions. Readers were finally beginning to loosen their wallet strings and were paying to read content online! Buoyed by this, 2019 was universally declared to be the big year where digital subscriptions were supposed to really take off.

B2B on the other hand, has traditionally been more successful with paid subscription models. This is partly because a bulk of their subscriptions coming from institutions that pay for institution wide access. Or they reimburse employees for subscriptions to B2B publications. Thus, the battle for subscription victories have been unevenly split across the two sides of publishing, B2B and B2C.

How did publishers view subscriptions? According to the Reuters Institute Report Journalism, Media, and Technology Trends and Predictions 2019, "Display and native advertising remain important today but the key focus going forward is on building or strengthening businesses around subscription and donations."

So, there literally was a rush to erect paywalls all over the internet and huge investments were done to shore up the subscriptions side of B2C. If paywalls are there, can paywall blockers be far behind? Starting with crude attempts like copying the article and pasting it on to non- paywalled sections like article comments, paywall blockers went all the way to exploit browser bugs and private browsing modes and also included custom scripts for bypassing the paywall at specific websites.

Digital media offers the chance for publishers to experiment endlessly with every element of the subscription business - the business model itself, the pricing, the duration, the discounts and so on. But most publishers still tend to think in fairly straight forward terms when it comes to subscription models. Pay per article or subscription bundling - combining subscriptions across multiple websites into a single offer - for example, are still comparatively rare in the world of digital publishing. A willingness to experiment has to be seen.

While all this was happening, the industry has already pivoted to a new topic - managing subscription churn - of subscribers falling off and not renewing. Many publications for publishers have already announced this as the next holy grail for the industry.

Here again, B2B has stolen a march over B2C, with well-established practices and well-structured teams focused on subscription renewals. But perhaps, they have an edge, given the higher price of the unit subscription.

To sum it up, digital subscriptions is yet another fast-evolving segment of the digital publishing business and the last word is yet to be written about it.


This article is part of a series on Digital Publishing trends for 2020. You can read the others in this series below

  1. It is the reader, not the content
  2. Long tail content comes into play to increase pageviews
  3. The lure of the walled gardens
  4. Is custom content the new king?
  5. Programmatic advertising and other technology nightmares
  6. The bot brigade and more such frauds
  7. What is happening to affiliate revenues?
  8. The second digital transformation is well on its way