Could Paywalls Work for Niche Magazines?

[responsive]der_spiegel[/responsive]Der Spiegel, among the largest weekly news magazines in Europe, has a problem.

“Der Spiegel, which has been published since 1947 and is known for its in-depth coverage of political and other issues, was the first to introduce [free online content]  in Germany, helping the magazine extend its brand,” writes Magdalena Osumi in The Japan Times, referring to their 1994 launch of a digital site that offered different content from the printed magazine.

Senior Editor Martin Doerry notes that “journalists now write in a different style. They have to be more aggressive in the way of producing stories, which have to be very short and not so analytical or profound.”

This has led to a struggle to maintain the quality of their writing, he adds, along with a declining circulation presumably caused by younger generations “waning interest in politics,” Osumi notes.

To combat this issue, the magazine launched a replica tablet/smartphone version of the magazine that is seeing good success, with 50,000 copies sold each week. But free access to the online edition, which is constantly updated, hinders any further rise in print circulation, according to Doerry.

The magazine is leaning toward instituting a paywall for Der Spiegel’s online content, so they can continue to provide the “quite long, sophisticated and ironic” stories that have become the hallmark of the publication.

And while he acknowledges that many of the millennial generation, including his own daughters, seem to care less about politics, they are keenly involved in lifestyle and social topics.

“The new generation won’t read as much as former generations did. We have to face this problem and think about finding other issues to report on. This is one of the most important tasks — to find a way of reporting for this younger generation,” Doerry states.

If they can do it, if they can report on the issues that this digital generation finds important, their paywall may indeed be a likely model for growth. The idea is being watched keenly by niche magazines and other publications that include a younger, digital savvy demographic. By combining digital content, in the form in which it works best, with the existing print, Der Spiegel may be ready to bridge the generation gap in their reporting.