By just about any reasonable measure, The Economist is doing pretty darn well for a magazine. As the print world frequently looks to be in a state of perpetual implosion, The Economist stands out as one of the print publications that's not only surviving, but thriving.

While struggling print publications like The New York Times mull a paid content strategy from a position of desperation, The Economist is going paid from a position of strength.

As The Guardian reported on Tuesday:

The Economist is restricting the number of articles that online readers can view for free, the latest sign that publishers are rethinking their attitude to web content.

Only articles from the last 90 days will be available to general readers, rather than 12 months under the current system. From 13 October, anything more than 90 days old will be put behind a pay wall and thus be available to subscribers only.

It doesn't stop there: The Economist's current print edition will also go behind the paywall.

According to Ben Edwards, who runs the Economist website, "We consider this to be a premium reading experience and plan to develop the online edition of our magazine for our most loyal and engaged readers: subscribers". Edwards has good reason to be confident: The Economist's continued success during these tough times demonstrates that it has a viable product consumers see value in.

And that's precisely why The Economist is likely to get away with (and benefit from) its raising of a paywall. While other publications grapple out of necessity with a digital makeover that includes paid content, The Economist, because of its health, has the luxury of choosing what goes behind the paywall. It's simply adding to the value of a subscription that many consumers already see significant value in. Struggling publications, on the other hand, will have to convince consumers that there's value in their paid offerings.

That may be a bit easier to do if and when it becomes harder to find content that isn't behind a paywall. But that said I think everyone in the print business would agree: it's always preferable to make important business decisions when you're sitting in the catbird seat.

Photo credit: centralasian via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 8 October, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (2)


Jim Novo

But why are they in the catbird seat?

Because they are willing to accept a smaller but much more valuable audience that is worth reaching and paying for, as opposed to caring about the size of the audience.  They do this by producing great content that is unique and has authority, as opposed to repurposing newsfeeds and crap written by idiots.  There is no real Influence without Authority; think about it.  "Struggling publications" are because they add little value.

Targeted is the right business model for the web, not mass.  Reach / Influence is meaningless when the audience is of poor quality.  The web sucks at aggregating valuable audiences that pay attention, and that's why display ad rates are so low.  Except at The Economist and a few others that produce Authoritative content.

almost 9 years ago

Alec Kinnear

Alec Kinnear, Creative Director at Foliovision

And this will restrict The Economist's audience further. It may be that with much of their content widely available, they significantly expanded their subscription base.

I see this shift as a rotation and a way to get some additional free media attention. Expect in a year to see The Economist announce a wider range of content for free. And get additional coverage, hook some additional visitors/subscribers and then eighteen months later later, retreat behind a pay wall again.

And so on.

almost 9 years ago

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