Feature

Making print and digital work together profitably: paywalls and politics

The publishers of The Spectator and MoneyWeek have successful print titles and online offerings. They talk about profits, paywalls and politics.

Left: Toby Bray, right: Ben Greenish
Left: Toby Bray, right: Ben Greenish

Ben Greenish, managing director, Press Holdings Media Group

- What is your model for charging for your online and print content?

The Spectator print product has always been a paid-for magazine available through both subscription and newsstand purchase. Until recently, the magazine had also been freely available online on what had been a magazine marketing website, in an effort to drive traffic, ad revenues and, counterintuitively, paid-for subscriptions. That changed in 2007 when The Spectator website became a forum and blog and a sister brand for the magazine. Following that success, the free access to the weekly magazine content was withdrawn. This has been about creating a "value wall" around The Spectator and making sure our print content is paid for.

- How has introducing a paywall impacted on your business so far?

Bringing the perception of value back to the magazine and taking it off free-to-air has had no negative impact on web traffic (in fact, it has continued to increase after a small dip), no negative impact on online revenues which continue to grow, but a positive impact on copy sales. It has driven a 5 per cent increase in newsstand sales while at the same time we put in a significant coverprice increase. And 600 subscriptions were sold in quarter four 2009 from our online promotions. Online is now driving print sales so removing the magazine has had a great impact.

- Are paywalls a must for all publishers or is there a place for online content funded solely by advertising?

No to the first question and yes to the second. I firmly believe that this is all about understanding your own brand, your customers and markets and your opportunity. "One size" or approach will not fit all and never should. It has to be about how to extract value from your content and value from your brand, and if it's a pay wall for one and free access for another, that's fine.

- Why are people still willing to pay for your magazine when there is so much content available for free online?

We have created two distinct products that operate under the overall understanding of the brand. The Spectator is known for brilliant writing and brilliant writers, opinions and politics. All of this is captured in "long hand" in the magazine and our readers will walk over hot coals to get it. The website has a "shorthand" feel and while most of the big subject areas covered in the magazine are covered online, it's in forum and blog style.

- How does the uncertain political and economic climate impact upon your title?

The recession has been as painful for us as any and it's too early to see how this year will pan out fully. But, of course, given our opinionated and aggressive approach to politics, the uncertain political climate has been great. Many advertisers are using us to raise their profiles throughout existing government but crucially with a view to who will form the next one. The Spectator and our website are heavily read throughout Whitehall as well as business.

- Do you see a day when your product will be online-only or will there always be a role for a print format?

see a day when some magazines will be represented through online or digital only, and in some cases that's very, very soon. I think there will always be a role for printed products too but, again, it is not a one-size-fits-all answer - it's again about what is right for the brand, customers and market.

Toby Bray, managing director, Moneyweekmagazine

- What is your model for charging for your online and print content?

Our print magazine is read almost entirely by subscribers. Our total print circulation is 43,000, with 96 per cent paid subs and 3 per cent paid newsstand. All our magazine content goes up on the website: 60 per cent of it stays behind the paywall for one month, while 40 per cent is published for free immediately. Plus, there is additional free content: our daily market commentary called Money Morning, a blog and market data. One month after the magazine publication date, the restricted content becomes available for free, so that it can be indexed by search engines.

- How has introducing a paywall impacted on your business so far?

We've had a paywall since we launched the site in 2005. As a subscription publisher, the model of "free content plus ad revenue" was something we never entertained. We've always valued our content and demanded payment for it. Over the past six years, the circulation of MoneyWeek magazine has grown from 8,000 to 43,000. Our experience demonstrates that if you've got something valuable to offer, you can charge for it and people will pay for it. Of course, we also want a significant search presence and a certain volume of traffic for our advertisers, which is why we give away a proportion of our content for free. But generating ad revenue is not the main purpose of our site.

- Are paywalls a must for all publishers or is there a place for online content funded solely by advertising?

The debate about paywalls wouldn't be happening if there were enough online publishing businesses successfully funded by advertising. The vast majority aren't, so it's hard to see how paywalls can be avoided in the long run because publishers won't be able to sustain their digital losses indefinitely. "Free" and "paid" can work together. We have hundreds of thousands of people reading our free e-mails, and hundreds of thousands of others reading free content on our website. But we only give away a certain amount - enough to get people interested and to trust us.

- Why are people still willing to pay for your magazine when there is so much content available for free online?

MoneyWeek has a loyal readership of very cash-rich/time-poor people (the average subscriber has a personal income of £82,000) who devour the unique accessibility of our content. Because we only give away about 40 per cent of our content, they're happy to pay for the magazine. The remaining 60 per cent is the most valuable content: in-depth articles and practical investment advice. Plus, I still think people prefer reading magazines to websites.

- How does the uncertain political and economic climate impact upon your title?

MoneyWeek's circulation has been growing continuously for the past six years, and we've increased it by another 10 per cent over the past year. Our growth has been unaffected. The fact that we successfully predicted - and told - our readers about the sub-prime crisis, the credit crunch and the rise in the price of gold, for example, before they took effect, has undoubtedly helped our subscriptions and attracted more advertisers.

- Do you see a day when your product will be online-only or will there always be a role for a print format?

The death of print has been called many times - wrongly, in my opinion. Print remains our core business and our circulation is still growing. Weaker print titles will probably be eliminated by internet competition but print titles that can adapt and combine successfully with digital elements can continue to do well.