Wednesday, March 18, 2020

News Products, Paywall Strategies Respond To Pandemic

Atlantic Media reports publishers have responded to the rapidly changing nature of the pandemic with live blogs, newsletters and podcasts, many of which are listed in this Nieman Lab piece. CNN’s coronavirus podcast, for example, “hit 1 million downloads a week after launch,” and has consistently ranked in the top five on Apple Podcasts since.

Publisher decisions on paywalls run the full gamut of possible responses, from keeping walls up to un-paywalling all coverage. 

As a Los Angeles Times spokesperson explained, each is “strik[ing] a balance between providing a public service…and placing a value on [their] news products.”Some publishers with hard paywalls, like The Information and The Times of London, have not adjusted their paywalls, while many local papers — including The Dallas Morning News, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Tampa Bay Times, The Toronto Star, and The Seattle Times — have unpaywalled coverage to some degree. 

The type of coverage being unwalled varies, from only local coverage (as in the case of The Seattle Times) to “Need-to-Know” landing pages (like The Wall Street Journal). Others are boosting newsletter subscribers and registered users, such as The Washington Post, which has unpaywalled all coverage featured in its special Coronavirus newsletter, and The New York Times, which is providing unlimited access to COVID-19 coverage to registered users.

Even after un-paywalling coverage, publications are seeing a marked boost in readership and subscriptions. 

Poynter reported that subscriptions at The Seattle Times have set new records, even though coverage is free, and that readership is “way up.” Coronavirus coverage at Tampa Bay Times made up about half of the stories leading people to subscribe. Publishers are also counting on the longer-term impact, particularly with regards to building brand affinity. As Poynter’s Rick Edmonds put it, “If potential subscribers like what they see, they may be more inclined to sign up when the wall returns.”

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