Smart, and right.
That’s my take on news publishers who are opening up their paywalls to allow free access to news around the current pandemic. They are smart to allow readers to access this free content to build good relationships with new readers, and they right to do so as a service to all of us who need trusted news from trustworthy platforms.
“Popular content analytics platform Chartbeat has reported that the number of pageviews across its network was up 33% last week compared to the same time last year, according to Recode,” writes Faisal Kalim in What’s New in Publishing. “The amount of time spent actively scrolling, clicking, and reading articles was also up 30% during the same period.”
No doubt a good amount of that traffic comes from people searching for reliable information on the current situation. In response, many publishers – including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Atlantic – have lifted their paywalls, Kalim notes.
It’s not just hard news sites either; Condé Nast Italy is making digital editions of all its titles – including Vanity Fair, Vogue Italia, GQ, Condé Nast Traveler, and Wired – free for registered users.
“With this issue, in this particularly difficult time for Milan, Lombardy, but also the whole country, we wanted to reflect on the most authentic spirit of Milan, rooted in discipline, rational thinking, rigor and sense of community, all values which are key to fight and overcome this crisis,” said Simone Marchetti, Editor-in-chief, Vanity Fair Italy.
A recent issue dedicated to the city of Milan, hard hit by coronavirus, featured profiles on both well-known and everyday residents of the city. Hearst in Spain is following suit, and we expect the trend to continue.
Importantly, this isn’t about the money in the short term.
“There is a ‘reluctance from publishers to be seen as profiteering from the virus,’ according to Lucinda Southern, Senior Reporter, Digiday,” Kalim explains. “Most of them have stated that they are doing it as a service to their readers as they find their way through this unprecedented crisis.”
Louise Story, Chief News Strategist and Chief Product and Technology Officer for the Wall Street Journal, agrees that right now it’s about public service.
“For over a month, we have been making key pieces of important coronavirus content open to read for free and will continue to do so as we serve the public on this story,” Story said in an Adweek article.
In the long run, these publishers stand to gain reader trust and loyalty and will pick up new paying customers along the way, no doubt. And they should if they’ve done the right things to earn trust by offering useful, credible content that helps all of us get through this. They’ll also gain valuable first-party data that can be strategically leveraged to grow their brand’s footprint over time.
Credibility has never been more important for media brands. And it’s not something a brand can claim; true credibility must be earned, by engaging authentically and delivering consistently. Once earned, it’s the starting point for new products and services that people will eventually pay for … and even if only a small portion of these new readers become paying customers, the value of the brand will be elevated overall, something that brand managers know is critically important.
Once again, the publishing world is answering massive disruption with creativity and innovation.
“Moreover, new opportunities are expected to surface after all this is over,” Kalim writes. “Pandemics have been known to lead to radical transformations. The world is going to change forever in many ways, according to multiple experts from different fields. And that will create new behaviors and new opportunities for all businesses, including publishing.”
For publishers, just about the only thing that really matters, in the long run, is a media brand’s relationship with the reader. With that, the change will bring new ideas, innovative solutions and a new way forward.