It's been four years since Piano Media set up its first national paywall, with nine news outlets in Slovakia locking up part of their content behind it.
Similar national paywalls went up in Poland and Slovenia soon afterwards, with different long-term outcomes.
The paywalls are still up in Poland and Slovakia, but the Slovenian paywall is due to be dismantled at the end of this month, considering "the different strengths of the publishers, pricing issues, and ultimately divergence in strategy," said Piano chief executive Kelly Leach.
Leach outlined some of the lessons the Piano team and its partner publishers have learned in the process, speaking at Digital Media Europe in London yesterday.
"Having a successful paid strategy takes work. It's not a matter of putting up the software and the money starts rolling in," she said.
And commitment to the paid model is what separates successful publishers from the rest.
"The poster child for commitment" in the Piano Media network is Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, who recently announced it had almost 55,000 digital subscribers, topping its goal and recording a growth of 400 per cent in six months.
Another lesson from Piano is the importance of creating richer content packages to turn readers into paying subscribers.
This proved to be a crucial factor both in terms of the content bundles from multiple publishers on offer through the national paywall, as well as for individual publishers and the number and quality of stories they chose to put behind the paywall in the first place.
"Whether it's metering or the freemium model, both can work and it's really again a matter of the quantity and the quality of the content that's behind the paywall," continued Leach.
She explained that in all three countries where national paywall models were introduced, publishers were able to choose the amount of content they wanted to lock behind the paywall and if they had a metre in place, for example.
"[But] pricing was really ultimately the challenge," she said, pointing to the upcoming dismantling of the Slovenian model.
Leach advised newspaper publishers to think outside the box about different pricing models, pointing to varied options such as 24-hour access similar to renting, or Blendle's pay-per-article system, which was outlined earlier at the conference by founder Marten Blankesteijn.
"I think that there does need to be a lot more innovation," said Leach.
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