Condé Nast to Put All Their Titles Behind Paywalls by End of This Year

Three years ago, it was evident that Condé Nast was somehow defying the so-called digital erosion. At the time, Nicholas Coleridge said his company’s sales had held up well, and the feared “demise” of the print magazine hadn’t materialized. 

“Ninety percent of profits within the group still came from its magazines with 10 percent from digital,” Coleridge said at the time. 

Now, to ease the pressure from stagnant advertising, the publisher is putting all of its magazine content behind paywalls by the end of 2019.

“Three Condé Nast titles, the New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Wired, already are behind metered paywalls that require consumers to subscribe in order to access more than four articles each month,” writes Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg in the Wall Street Journal. “Now, the company plans to build digital subscription businesses around its other titles, including Vogue, GQ, Bon Appétit and Glamour.”

“This is the next phase of a strategy that was implemented with the launch of the paywall at The New Yorker in 2014,” CEO Bob Sauerberg wrote in a staff memo last week, according to The Wrap. “Since then, audiences at The New Yorker, Wired and Vanity Fair have proven that they are willing to pay for the quality content we create, and the performance of those paywalls has exceeded our expectations.”

According to Laura Stampler in Fortune, Sauerberg told the staff that each title would see a different approach to implement the paywalls. 

“Some brands may have specific content that will be gated, and some will have a wider metered paywall,” he wrote in the memo. Every brand is distinct, and every brand’s paywall will be its own distinct product.”

This is really good news for the publishing industry. I’ve long bemoaned the practice of media brands giving away their precious commodity. Time Inc. put up their paywall in 2015, clearly stating they were “no longer willing to give [our] content away for free.” 

We cheered.

A year earlier, John R. MacArthur, publisher of Harper’s Magazine, insisted that print is the only lasting foundation on which literary journalism and sophisticated fiction can rest, and they refused to deliver free digital content

We cheered again.

Since then, we’ve been keeping an eye on paywall strategies; it’s more than simply the revenue itself. Think of what a smart publisher can do when they strategically leverage their first-party reader data – what many brands are doing, quite successfully. 

Fast forward to today and we see more evidence of publishers getting paid content right. The once heavily ad-based publishing model is being driven more by subscription goals than clicks.

According to Krish Subramanian writing in Publishing Executive, publishers are getting more nuanced with their subscription management programs, and it’s paying off in customer growth.

“One of the unintended consequences of shifting to the subscription model is the flip in company culture that many publishing companies experience by having to focus on writing for the reader, as opposed to optimizing for clicks,” Subramanian writes. “This shift is fundamental in the media industry where clickbait headlines hidden behind paywalls add to the noise, making it harder to send readers the signal that publishers care about the quality of content. Offering flexible plans under a subscription model means publishers must focus on producing content that brings readers back for a longer term relationship.”

It’s the audience-first movement in full swing, as publishers work harder to regain trust and establish engagement by creating content with integrity.

Meanwhile, Twitter lit up with moans and groans, but the reality is, nothing of real value should be given away, without a strategic revenue model to back it up.

Paywalls? Yes. Just like checkout lines at the kiosk. This is great news for the magazine industry, and speaks to the growing importance of real journalism and high-quality, high-integrity content.