Since the advent of digital media, print media has scrambled to monetize itself to a sustainable level in the modern age. Publications such as the Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal and New York Times have suffered a major drop-off in circulation, seeing as most people would now prefer to use their mobile devices to stay up-to-date on current events rather than an unwieldy newspaper.
Of course, these publications have digital platforms, but instead of offering free content, many have opted to include a paywall on their website. The Wall Street Journal had previously allowed users to view the first page without displaying the paywall. But, as of February 2017, the Wall Street Journal had stopped participating in this program and – to nobody’s surprise – their website experienced a 44% drop in traffic.
For a company whose revenue is heavily dependent on subscribers, internet traffic was never at the top of their priorities. For the Wall Street Journal, the ultimate goal was yielding more subscribers, which, according to them, has increased since they removed this paywall-bypass feature. Digital platforms whose business model is built around ad revenue must attract as many internet visitors as possible, as the money they receive from advertisements is directly influenced by internet traffic.
While the Wall Street Journal still receives money from advertisers, the influx of new subscribers may have compensated for the loss in ad revenue created by the loss in website traffic. By opting out of this “First Click Free” program, Wall Street Journal is forfeiting their website’s content from being fully indexed by Google. Therefore, websites offering free content will perform dramatically better in search results.
Because we don’t know whether or not this program ultimately benefited the Wall Street Journal, it appears that the quest to stay relevant continues for print media.