August 3, 2021 Rob Underwood

How 2020 Shattered Resistance to Paywalls and Premium Content

The unprecedented circumstances of 2020 shook up many industries, and the world of publishing was no exception. These extraordinary events helped call attention to what we as publishers have always known: content is truly king. Readers began putting higher value on premium sources of content, and with that came a shift in their resistance to paywalls. Some of the factors which contributed to this shift include: 

  • COVID-19 leaving most people home for extended periods where content consumption was increased, which allowed them to appreciate the value of premium content. 
  • Increasingly polarized and untrustworthy social media showed the ugly side of free content and algorithm manipulation, which brought more Americans to the realization that “good” content — however each reader defines it — is worth paying for. 
  • The boom in subscription streaming services from non-print media providers like Disney, HBO, and Apple further eroded resistance to the idea of paying for access to content when the internet is so full of freebies.  

These factors drove a visible increase in the willingness to pay for media subscriptions across the world. The World Economic Forum’s “Understanding Value in Media: Perspectives from Consumers and Industry” (World Economic Forum, 2020) report found that “96% of the global population reads, watches or listens to news and entertainment.” And while, as of April 2020, only 16% of them were paying for news and 44% were paying for other types of entertainment, the number of respondents willing to pay for those types of content in the future were 53% and 70%, respectively. Even more encouraging: 63% of “young people” ages 16-34 are already paying for content.  

This boost in a willingness to pay for premium content played out as the pandemic continued. Average subscriptions to media and news content from March to May 2020 were 110% higher than the baseline according to the “Journalism, Media, and Technology Trends and Predictions 2021” report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and the University of Oxford . That growth rate was second only to the growth of streaming video services mentioned above.  

The current coronavirus challenge only emphasizes the indispensable role that media play in society today. With the value of content growing, the industry needs financial models that enable them to fulfil their social functions while still supporting widespread access to critical content. This can’t happen in isolation: it requires dialogue, including with regulators, to find solutions that balance innovation, consumer welfare and corporate responsibility of every stakeholder in the media industry  

It’s clear that the challenges of 2020 helped emphasize the necessity of content in general, but more importantly, quality content from reputable sources. While publishers should see this as an opportunity for growth, they must have a strategy in place to seize on the decreasing aversion towards paid content. When opening this discourse, it’s important to consider solutions that balance innovation, reader experience, and ease-of-use for every stakeholder involved. Among other factors, today’s paywall systems should include custom purchase workflows, on brand user interfaces, and integration with modern payment methods such as Google Pay, Apple Pay and PayPal. Choosing a platform that easily connect your back-end systems to your front end subscriptions can help capitalize on the encouraging new trend of your readers’ willingness to subscribe.  

 When people needed media to keep them informed, entertained, and connected – premium media met that need. Now publishers are seizing the opportunity to make long-term subscribers out of audiences who are more willing to pay for content than we’ve seen in decades.   

Ready to learn more? Check out our white paper, Balancing Print and Digital: A Publisher’s Guide for Optimizing the Content Distribution Mix.