As Gannett announced last week that it is launching paywalls around its 80 American publications (with the exception of USA Today), it feels like consumers may be getting used to the idea of being charged for some sorts of content.
But while paywalls have been tried and tested on mainstream news publications, could they ever work in the blogosphere? We're about to find out, as Australian-based fashion blog Frockwriter has announced that it will become the first blog to charge its readers for content through the Press+ revenue platform.
Frockwriter is about to collaborate with Press+ to launch a metered paywall, which will allow readers to view eight free posts per month, before charging them US$1.99 for a monthly subscription or US$19.99 for a yearly one.
Press+, owned by print services company RR Donnelley, is already used both by mainstream publishers, such as the Independent and the Onion, and by smaller business-to-business or business-to-consumer publications. It serves 280 sites, and the company states that it will launch paywalls with 246 more before the end of the spring. But while it has been popular with other news publications so far, it remains to be seen whether the Press+ paywall can be applied to fashion blogging, when so much content is available for free online.
"There is so much competition in fashion blogging, you'd never charge," says Emma Smith, a TV journalist and producer who has blogged New York Fashion Week, quoted in a paidContent article about Frockwriter's paywall:
Even Frockwriter's creator Patty Huntington speaks cautiously about the launch in the official Press+ press release. "I am well aware that it's going to be a slow process building a paid subscriber base," she says. "In some respects, it probably would have been easier to launch the blog as a subscriber site from the get-go, than provide free content for over three years and then suddenly start asking readers to pay."
But in a blog post announcing the paywall, Huntington explains her reasoning. She writes that Frockwriter had 65,000 unique visitors and over 100,000 page views this month, but that although "traffic, links and consumer engagement are wonderful validation for any blogger" you still "can't pay your rent with them".
Advertising has helped Frockwriter earn money, but it has left Huntington in a difficult position. "I can't devote more time to the blog without compromising my ability to earn a living," she writes, "and unless I spend more time blogging, traffic will never reach a sufficiently critical mass whereby advertising fully supports the blog."
Hence Frockwriter's decision to charge for some content, although Huntington emphasizes "I'm not trying to make a killing out of blogging. Just a living."
While the fashion world may have some misgivings, Press+ is very positive about the potential of the metered paywall that Frockwriter will be using. Press+ Co-Founder Steven Brill is quoted in the press release: "In every case, our meter allows publishers to keep their online advertising revenue, because they keep most of their page views," he says. "But at the same time they now begin to gain circulation revenue."
Gordon Crovitz, also a co-founder of Press+, states, "the site's unique subject matter shows that a digital subscription model can be valuable to any type of publication or blog with an engaged readership."