Paywall decision has paid off, says New York Times VP

Paul Smurl, vice president, Paid Products, USA, told the Digital Innovators’ Summit audience today that the decision to go to a paid content model was “years in the making”.

“You have to respectfully ask your audience to pay – and it really helps to allow them to pay if they believe what you believe. You need to know why you do what you do, and communicate that to your audience”, he said. The journey taken by the company to reach the paywall decision was a thorough one, which included experimentation between 2005-2007, and asking questions such as “what do we stand to gain by getting bigger?” “Unless we were going to become a portal, we weren’t not going to make a lot of money by getting marginally bigger”, said Smurl. With the results of reader research being “overwhelmingly positive”, the company debated the model for another year, before launching in March 2011.

Two years on, the paywall has evolved now, and the company has built its own ecommerce system. “We have spent lots of time making it easy for people to subscribe. We want to introduce new paid products, further balance free/pay, tighten avoidance loopholes, improve international conversion, and expand distribution”, said Smurl.

When asked about the site not being optimised for smartphones, Smurl concluded: “We’re not yet optimised for smartphones. We are dampening engagement because we’re not redirecting people to an optimised version, but it’s coming.”

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