Digital Paywall Design: Implications for Content Demand and Subscriptions

Sinan Aral, Paramveer S. Dhillon
2020 Management science  
Most online content publishers have moved to subscription-based business models regulated by digital paywalls. But the managerial implications of such freemium content offerings are not well understood. We, therefore, utilized microlevel user activity data from the New York Times to conduct a large-scale study of the implications of digital paywall design for publishers. Specifically, we use a quasi-experiment that varied the (1) quantity (the number of free articles) and (2) exclusivity (the
more » ... mber of available sections) of free content available through the paywall to investigate the effects of paywall design on content demand, subscriptions, and total revenue. The paywall policy changes we studied suppressed total content demand by about 9.9%, reducing total advertising revenue. However, this decrease was more than offset by increased subscription revenue as the policy change led to a 31% increase in total subscriptions during our seven-month study, yielding net positive revenues of over $230,000. The results confirm an economically significant impact of the newspaper's paywall design on content demand, subscriptions, and net revenue. Our findings can help structure the scientific discussion about digital paywall design and help managers optimize digital paywalls to maximize readership, revenue, and profit. This paper was accepted by Chris Forman, information systems.
doi:10.1287/mnsc.2020.3650 fatcat:3gzu2npfw5ei5aqb4dnqhf4eni