British publishing began a new chapter this month, when the Telegraph Media Group became the first general-interest newspaper to adopt an online metered model.
TMG’s meter around content for The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph offers 20 articles a month for free, followed by a £1.99 per month charge. The full digital pack, which includes tablet editions, costs £9.99 a month.
The model resembles that of the Financial Times, is the one chosen by The New York Times and is soon to be adopted by The Washington Post.
One of the most striking observations about the move is that most of the Telegraph’s online readers will not be affected by it at all. The average user visits telegraph.co.uk just 12 times per month, according to comScore data.
This means traffic figures should not drop off a cliff, which should reassure current advertisers, while TMG gains incremental revenue from its heaviest users most likely to have a strong relationship with the brand.
"It promises the best of both worlds," says Adam Crow, head of print investment at MediaCom. He calls it a "natural next step" for TMG’s sales team, which he credits with developing the idea of reaching the "Telegraph audience" across multiple platforms over the past two years.
But, if most people fall outside the meter, why implement it at all? Well, for starters, the paywall will "premiumise" the entire site, according to Liam Mullins, the head of trading at the7stars. The ability for demand-side platforms to access parts of the site for pennies through remnant inventory will disappear overnight.
The permeable meter also means Telegraph articles will continue to show in all web searches and can still be shared through social media, notes Carat’s head of press, Zoe Bale. Furthermore, the homepage, section heads, sponsored content, promotions, hub pages, travel, mobile, blogs and galleries will all sit outside the paywall.
Another major benefit for The Telegraph and its advertisers will be the volume of consumer data the subscriptions will generate, resulting in a far greater understanding of its audiences. "How quickly they can build and mine that database, and make it more responsive, will be key to its success," Mullins says.
TMG has already dipped its toe in the data-filled waters, having launched a metered model for its international audience in October 2012. The publisher claims to have seen a 90 per cent conversion rate from users who subscribed to the free-month trial offer. As purchase funnels go, that represents an outstanding driver by any measure.
The publisher’s new model comes weeks after the chief executive, Murdoch Mac-Lennan, outlined a "root and branch" restructure, resulting in "one unified operation serving digital and print products on a 24/7 basis".
Consensus seems to be building that separating print from online subscription models in the new always-on media landscape no longer makes sense.
Tony Gallagher, the editor of The Daily Telegraph, says "a number of compelling digital products" will be launched in the months ahead. No doubt they will leverage its quality content in the mobile and tablet space, where the app-led culture has made subscription payments the norm.
Other publishers, as well as advertisers, will be tracking its progress closely.