1. Hard Paywall: The Most successful Subscription Models for Media Websites


This article is the first of a series in which we look into the different subscription models for media sites.


Traditional business models are no longer as efficient or sustainable in the modern marketplace. While display ads were once the most effective form of online advertising, they have lost much of their influence since ad blockers became available for users, allowing them to filter what they see online. As a result, media websites have had to come up with novel business strategies in order to continue attracting consumers and generating stable incomes. One of the many answers to their modern business needs came in the form of Subscription Models.

A Subscription Model sells periodic use or access to a product or service, instead of a one-time purchase. It gives brands the flexibility of customization, allowing them to test out bundles, offers, and discounts to meet their business and consumer needs. Another advantage of this modus operandi is that it gives businesses access to recurring revenues.

If you’re an online media house hoping to up your game in today’s highly competitive digital marketplace, Subscription Models are a smart alternative you should be looking into. This article offers you a breakdown of the pros and cons of the Hard Paywall subscription model.

Want to learn more about alternative revenue streams for websites? Make sure to check out our article on Selling Products as one of the Four Best Alternative Revenue Streams for Media Sites and discover more ways of monetizing your audiences.

Hard Paywall

A Hard Paywall offers consumers access to everything on your website for a fee. Otherwise known as the “barrier” subscription, it is most commonly offered on professional, academic, and financial websites. Article titles and brief introductions are visible, but consumers have to subscribe to your site in order to read full articles and access your website’s archive.

A Hard Paywall can be riskier than other subscriptions, due to its inflexible structure. Introducing this paywall to an already launched website may lead to the loss of up to 90% of your audience. Losing the better part of your audience may seem daunting, yet pairing a hard paywall with a strong and valuable content strategy helps re-build your audience. You can bet that this new audience, who is willing to pay a fee to gain access to your content, is interested in your company’s niche. As a result, these users will be easier to engage with and retain, and they will probably appreciate any products and services you recommend.

The Times of London is one example of a business that launched a Hard Paywall subscription. In 2010, it lost 90% of its viewership as a result. No one mourned the loss though, as a smaller audience proved more effective for the features the paper wished to focus on. Investing in a smaller, more engaged audience fortified the paper’s relationship with its readers. While live chats were previously attended by up to 10,000 people, groups now became small enough to allow for real conversations.

Over the years, Hard Paywalls have been adapted to fit the business models of different media providers. For instance, companies that sell packages of different media types are said to follow a Media Line Model. Playster, a global subscription-based entertainment service that provides movies, TV shows, music, videogames, ebooks, and audiobooks, follows this model. It offers its subscribers to possibility to choose between preset media combinations, depending on what they like. The advantage here is that if users are pleased with the service, they will upgrade their subscription package over time to include more media formats.

Another model is the Varied Access Model, which provides users different types of access to a website’s content depending on their subscription plan. This model was pioneered by Netflix, who started it in order to rent out DVDs in bundles of 2 or 3, but have expanded their Varied Access Model to include online video streaming since. Today, Netflix’s online subscribers can choose between three plans. For instance, the Basic plan allows users to stream on one screen at a time; the Standard plan allows users to stream on two screens at a time with access to HD videos; and the Premium plan allows streaming on four screens simultaneously, plus access to HD and Ultra HD videos.

A Hard Paywall is just one of the various subscription that can be adopted by media websites to maintain a steady income and compete in the digital marketplace.

To find out more about other subscription models,

check out the next two articles in our subscription series:

Are you looking to upgrade your online business with a subscription service? Make sure you read up on How to Choose the Best Subscription Model for Your Website.

Karl El Hitti

Karl is a Creative Media Strategist at Bookwitty. His expertise lies in content marketing and original content. Karl also helps build marketable narratives around rising musicians as part of The Studio Keeward Music Residency Program.