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  1. Paywalls
February 15, 2024

How Swiss daily Blick gained 16,000+ subscribers in eight months with freemium paywall

A registration wall launched in the run-up to the premium offer was a "key element" to a strong launch.

By Charlotte Tobitt

Swiss German-language newsbrand Blick first envisioned charging for its content online 12 years ago – but it didn’t go live with its freemium paywall until June last year.

In the eight months since, Blick+ has secured more than 16,000 subscribers – almost 80% of whom were already signed up to its free registration wall.

Adrian Gottwald, head of reader revenue at Blick Group, told Press Gazette the registration wall, which started being rolled out around five months before the paywall, “was maybe the key element for our successful launch”.

The registration wall started by restricting access to one article per day for 2% of users and gradually increased both metrics until ten to 12 articles daily were gated for Blick’s whole audience of 1.2 million. All the articles chosen to be restricted were identified as potential Blick+ content – meaning people may be willing to pay for them.

“I think this could be an interesting approach for other media that think about introducing a subscription offer,” Gottwald said. Blick+ has already been cited, along with Bild in Germany, as a guiding model for Mail Online’s new partial paywall by editor Danny Groom.

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The Blick+ paywall now applies to about 10% of the website’s content or 200 articles per month, a figure decided because, Gottwald said, “we wanted to offer subscribers as much content as possible, while at the same time, we did not want to jeopardise the advertising revenue”. Subscribers also get other perks such as newsroom tours and discounts on events, designed to boost retention.

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Blick+ costs CHF9.90 per month (£8.89) or CHF99 for a year (£88.93).

More than 70% of the more than 16,000 subscribers to have signed up so far came through articles, with just under 12% through the Blick+ offer page and the rest through campaigns and other routes.

Blick laid a ‘solid foundation’ ahead of subscription launch

Gottwald explained the long journey to get to this point: “The idea of a paywall was conceived in 2012, but at that time, our reach was not stable enough, and our user base was not sufficiently broad,” he said.

“Therefore, the decision was made to focus on increasing reach, which has been successfully achieved today with over 1.2 million users per day on blick.ch (for context: there are approximately 5.9 million German-speaking individuals in Switzerland).

“Additionally, it was decided to continuously improve the quality of the content, moving away from the traditional focus on sex and crime typical of tabloid journalism, and to become more relevant in news, politics, etc. This strategy has laid a solid foundation for introducing the digital subscription in June. The project itself took around two years from its start to the launch.”

The latest Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism showed that 17% of people in Switzerland pay for news (16% of German speakers and 20% of French speakers). For comparison this is below Norway (39%), Sweden (33%) and the US (21%) but above Belgium (15%), Spain (13%), Germany (11%) and the UK (9%).

Blick, which was Switzerland’s first tabloid when it launched in 1959, is owned by Ringier, whose business newsbrand Handelszeitung and consumer protection magazine Beobachter already had digital subscription models – enabling the sharing of some expertise but not a direct comparison.

Blick also took inspiration from many international news publishers and Gottwald cited “memorable” visits with Bild in Germany, Dagbladet and Schibsted in Norway, and Belgium-headquartered Mediahuis. “The Nordic media houses were especially interesting for us because their markets, in terms of size and financial resources, are very similar to Switzerland’s,” he said.

The steady implementation of the registration wall gave time for Blick leadership to focus on shifting company culture away from a focus on clicks and optimising reach and towards creating impactful Blick+ articles, breaking down silos and learning how to create “compelling ‘cliffhangers'” above articles behind the wall.

The “cliffhangers” are summaries of three to four bullet points teasing a Blick+ article’s content without giving away too much, helping to entice people to convert into a paying subscribers when they hit the paywall. This goes beyond the common approach of telling people in more general terms why they should sign up.

“A/B tests have demonstrated that this approach achieves over 20% higher conversion rates compared to a paywall that describes subscription benefits,” Gottwald said.

“Concerns that users might subscribe for just one article and then cancel (since the paywall focuses more on the individual article than on the subscription) proved unfounded. The next step involves more testing and optimisation in this area.”

Benefits of free trials, annual subscriptions and joint login

Free trials in which users must enter their payment details at the initial sign-up point work “very well”, Gottwald also said. “It shows that users often come for the price but stay for the content.”

Annual subscriptions are already doing better than expected: even though Blick is mainly promoting monthly packages, about 28% are annual at the moment according to Gottwald.

“This indicates we have a share of brand lovers who trust us and are willing to make a significant commitment from the outset, which is very gratifying,” he said.

In Switzerland, major media companies, including Ringier, have a joint login system for their news platforms called One Log meaning users can have a single account for all participating outlets.

Gottwald explained: “The advantage is that users are familiar with and trust One Log, and we have a login service that meets the highest security requirements. This reduces barriers for users to log in. At the same time, One Log is also owned by the Swiss media houses, meaning we can co-determine its further development.”

Despite the recent focus on digital subscriptions, they still represent a “small, not yet so significant share” of revenue compared to advertising. “However, the goal is to establish subscriptions as a relevant pillar alongside the advertising market, also to mitigate the risk of relying too heavily on a single revenue strategy,” Gottwald said.

Blick also notably has print sales revenue, e-commerce through its Box product recommendation website, and events verticals based around two major Swiss hobbies: hiking (26 Summits) and skiing (Winter Awards).

Next up for the Blick+ digital subscription strategy, according to Gottwald, is further optimisation of the “cliffhanger” and the exploration of ways to “encourage users to engage more and repeatedly click on Blick+ articles to encounter the paywall – besides classic options like newsletters, gamification is also a possibility”.

Methods of gamification already seen on Blick’s website include a slot machine through which people can win Blick+ subscriptions – “this way we generate leads in a playful manner,” Gottwald said – and so-called Trophies for sports verticals, on which people can answer daily questions and participate in prediction games again with the change of winning free months of Blick+.

Gottwald also gave a glimpse of another potential revenue stream in development, adding: “Lastly, micropayments will also be a topic of interest. We are convinced that there is a user need for micropayments. Our task now is to figure out how to implement them in a way that also creates a viable business model. We will dedicate the next few months to this topic.”

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
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  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
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  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
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