Variety's Paywall: One Size Fits All

By Neil Stiles |
January 9, 2012
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Many are predicting that 2012 will finally be the year that the paywall moves from niche to mainstream. But is a paywall a feasible strategy for a small publication? We asked several executives about their experience of charging their readers for their content.

 Variety.com began making its content available only to subscribers in December 2009. So as a pioneer in media paywalls, we're often asked “What’s the paywall strategy?"

Truthfully, the issue cannot be taken in isolation, because it is part of our bigger-picture strategy. Our main job is connectivity: We connect readers to issues, advertisers to readers, information to users and so on. The paywall subscriptions are part of a plan that includes events, conferences, paid data, research, and much more. But since the topic is the paywall, I will cut to the chase: It has proven more successful than even we had expected, with subscriptions rising since the paywall went up.

For the last three years, as we planned the paywall and other facets of our business goals, we have always had a central guiding principle: In an untethered world, we must NOT be the people to decide how a reader should receive our information. The choice is theirs, not ours. A producer shooting in Michigan, a director working on storyboards from home, a studio exec on the lot .... Each pays a subscription fee once and consumes that information however or wherever they choose -- in print, online, in our iPad and Android apps, etc.

Read about how the Pacific Coast Business Times decided to take the paywall plunge here.

We view our advertisers in the same way. Our advertisers should not be forced to figure out where their target is and then pay different fees for the privilege of reaching those people. This is effectively what happens when they pact with a paper or website that requires them to pay different prices to reach an audience online or in print or on an app. The way we see it, our advertisers are after the same audience -- Variety readers -- who just happen to have fragmented reading habits. Therefore our advertisers pay once, and we simultaneously place their message on all the platforms we have.

Our circulation is growing, both direct to web and through our traditional means of reaching potential subscribers. Variety will show a marked paid increase in circulation in our next statement. To be clear, this is not fooling around with numbers: We’re talking about PAID circulation, and not bogus subscription fees like $5 a year just to boost numbers. We’re talking about genuine Variety subscribers. The full price is $329 per year; since there are promotional specials that means on average $265 per subscriber.

Read more on how paywalls can actually payoff here.

Our readers pay once and get everything. Our advertisers pay once and reach everyone. Simple.

I should define “everyone” -- as a business-to-business publication, we only care about people who make their living in the entertainment industry. Our research shows 90% or this professional audience are our readers, far more than any competitor.  

The world is changing, as people consume more information than ever before, and from multiple platforms. And while the economy meant that the entertainment industry is employing fewer people than in recent years, technology is providing new opportunities every day. We are confident that people in the industry will use those opportunities, and that Variety can help them. And yes, we think our Big Picture Plan is the way to go and that the paywall will continue to thrive for us and for them.

Neil Stiles is the president of Variety Group, a division of Reed Business Information.

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