Why the uptick in paywalls is a problem for PR pros
Public relations pros face constant challenges.
Keeping up with the evolution of PR, as new technology and tools come onto
the scene. Staying on top of crisis communications, in a time when social
media can spread negative news like wildfire. Dealing with the fact that
there are now at least
four PR pros for every journalist.
Now, they have a new challenge: Paywalls.
As publications continue to struggle and look for ways to bring in more
revenue, an increasing number are erecting digital barriers to gate
content. While this has always been the case with some publications, we see
it happening now with everything from local business journals to The Wall Street Journal.
In recent months, weâ€™ve seen the Chicago Sun-Times, Wired and Vanity Fair add paywalls. Bloomberg
just added one. The Atlantic has reinstated its paywall 10 years
after it made the decision to remove it.
Benchmark report: How journalists use social media]
â€œBy putting up a paywall, The Atlantic joins a raft of
publications, including Wired,
CNN, that have announced plans to launch paid products recently to diversify
their revenue in a digital ad market increasingly dominated by Google and
Wall Street Journal reported.
How it affects PR pros
Even if they see why it may make sense for the publications, PR pros must
consider how this impacts what they do.
struggle to earn media coverage
is only growing, and itâ€™s already an uphill battle. When you garner
coverage for your clients, one of the first things you want to do is to
Not so fast. The paywall might prevent you from sharing the piece.
Clients arenâ€™t too keen on this, and who can blame them? Theyâ€™ve watched
and worked with you as youâ€™ve pitched the story and fostered it along,
anxiously awaiting its publicationâ€”only to be stymied when they find they
canâ€™t share it with their audiences.
While this affects PR pros and their clients, it also affects journalists.
When one of our local publications suddenly began gating a good portion of
its content, one of the reporters I work with shared their frustration.
Journalists want their work to be shared. So how can this be good for them?
The bottom line for publications
Of course, publications want everyone to buy a subscription. But it isnâ€™t
realistic to expect every person in your audience to subscribe.
â€œI think the
paywall craze which is sweeping the media herd
will be a big reality check for the news and magazine publishers,â€� says Om
Malik, founder of Gigaom. â€œSo many of them are drinking their own spiked
kool-aid. They will soon realize the size of their â€˜real audienceâ€™ and will
soon realize that they donâ€™t pass the â€˜value for moneyâ€™ threshold. There
are very few publications that have a feeling of must-reads and
â€œUltimately, itâ€™s a complex issue, especially for people in my field,â€� says Igor Studenkov, a
freelance reporter for several Chicago area newspapers. â€œThe issue of
paywalls is complicated.â€�
â€œItâ€™s a tradeoffâ€”you get a source of revenue, while on the other hand,
you limit the ability to share articles online,â€� he says. â€œFor example,
when the New York Daily News put a paywall up, its views went down
â€œEven with a rock-bottom paywall priceâ€¦.traffic is down sharply,â€� the
New York Post
reported. In February, page views for the New York Daily News â€œplummeted a
staggering 45 percent over the same month last year, according to comScore,
to 109 million from 197 million.â€�
â€œIt comes back to how both print and online outlets are desperately trying
to find a revenue model that works,â€� continued Studenkov. â€œThere might be a
better way to do it and figure out a way to balance the needs.â€�
Could publications make it more affordable, perhaps by charging per article
versus requiring a subscription to view articles?
What current industry insiders think
â€œIf you help a reporter with their story, the expectation on both sides
should be that youâ€™ll get a copy of it for free,â€� says Anjie Coplin, a
communications professional in the healthcare industry.
Other publications will wait a few days before putting the story behind the
paywall. Still others (like Harvard Business Review) will allow
you to view a few articles each month before expecting you to pay.Financial Times says your first three are on the house. The Atlantic gives you 10.
PR pros will have to monitor the paywall quandary to see how it plays out.
As change is a constant in the media world, chances are it will continue to
In the meantime, be aware of setting expectations for your clients before
they realize the article theyâ€™ve been looking forward to sharing canâ€™t be
shared. Be empathic with your journalistic colleagues, who probably want
you to know that they wish you could share their workâ€”without forcing you
to pay for it.
How are you adjusting to the increased use of paywalls, PR Daily
Michelle Garrett is a PR consultant and writer at
Garrett Public Relations. Follow her on Twitter
or connect with her on
LinkedIn. A version of
originally appeared on
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