Since the advent of the internet, traditional newspaper publishers have faced an increasing and existential challenge to sustain their paying readership and advertising revenue.

They are also facing the increasing costs of producing and distributing physical papers when competing against online publishers, who have much lower costs of distribution.

On one hand, ad spending has been grabbed by the likes of Google and Facebook, whilst on the other, the plethora of free online news outlets has hastened the decline of physical newspaper sales.

Whilst there will always be a customer segment that wants a physical paper, many publishers are adopting a strategy of moving as many customers as they can onto an engaging, good value for money, paid, digital subscription, which gives the publisher unlimited reach and a much larger gross margin percentage per customer.

So how can traditional newspaper publishers thrive with digital subscriptions and what tools are available to help them?

The current landscape for paid digital newspapers

The first paper to try a paywall was The Wall Street Journal in 1997. Fast forward to today, practically every newspaper is using subscriptions as a major source of revenue. 

There are also several additional benefits that publishers can gain from digital subscriptions compared with physical newspapers: for example, the ability to analyse data on readers’ activity and preferences or the opportunity to be more creative with pricing tiers that match different groups of readers’ needs more closely.

There are big differences between the approaches of some of the most well known publications. Here are some of the examples of how they are doing it:

The New York Times operates a soft paywall where you get 4 free articles then are prompted to subscribe. Prices start at $1 per week in year one, followed by $6.25 per week in year two.

The Washington Post has a hard paywall and offers a “Starter” subscription at $3 each 4 week which gives you access to up to 4 articles. Higher tiers give you unlimited access.

The Chicago Tribune bundles digital and physical subscriptions for $1.99 per week for 26 weeks but leaves the door open for a price increase after that initial term.

The LA Times, The Times of London and the FT all give a discounted initial rate for 6 or 12 months followed by a price increase. The FT also has levels of tiered pricing, which give greater levels of premium content as the customer goes up the levels.

The Daily Telegraph in the UK gives one month free followed by $9 for one year, but again leaves the door open by retaining the right to “inform customers of price increases”.

A number of well know publications, including The Guardian, are leaving it up to readers to voluntarily donate to support the paper.

The bottom line is that, unsurprisingly, every paper does it slightly differently.

However,  there are a few consistent themes that come out:

Soft PaywallsLimited access to a number of articles. Once these are read the user is prompted to subscribe
Hard PaywallsZero access to content without an active subscription
Introductory offersA low initial price, which increase automatically after a predetermined period
Tiered pricingDifferent levels of pricing which each give different levels of access
Gifting of SubscriptionsThe ability for a customer to gift an individual article or whole subscription
Usage based pricingSubscription gives access to a limited number of articles, once the limit is reached the reader can purchase articles individually
WalletsUsers have wallets that can be topped up which gives then tokens that can be redeemed for individual articles on a usage basis
Student DealsFree introductory offer subject to verification which then converts into paid subscription after 1, 3 or 5 years
DonationsVoluntary one off or recurring donations.

The variety of different subscription offers shows that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to do digital subscriptions. What matters is that they have the flexibility to try a range of different offers, analyse the data and keep iterating – until they have reached the optimum set of plans for their readers.

How can Billforward help with this?

The constant that runs through all of the newspapers above is that they have tested and iterated using data, to find out what offer resonates best with their readers, maximizes subscription revenue and minimizes churn.

The Billforward platform gives you the ultimate flexibility to offer discounts, free trials, tiered pricing, usage based billing, gifting or a combination of all of these. That way you can quickly build, launch and test new subscription plans. On top of this, being API first, Billforward allows easy integrations with other data platforms such as Segment, Airbyte, Google Data Studio which makes data driven decisions a breeze.

If you are looking to increase subscriber engagement and revenue for a digital publication, get in touch with us at  or visit our website at Let us handle the heavy lifting while you focus on growing your business and keeping your customers happy.


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