Mail Online users could soon be asked to pay to access a small amount of content each day under a new partial paywall model.
Most of the up to 1,500 stories published daily on the Mail Online website would remain free to access but a “freemium” paywall model could ask people to pay to read around ten to 15 stories per day, Press Gazette understands.
The new model would only apply to Mail Online users in the UK and would likely begin to be implemented in January.
The plan is understood to be based on German tabloid Bild’s model. Bild began charging for access to premium content in 2013 and has now reached more than 675,000 subscribers.
It is also a similar model to the The Independent, which puts certain in-depth stories and analyses behind a paywall under the Independent Premium branding, while also in the UK GB News began charging users for “exclusive analysis and opinion” last month.
The plan comes amid a backdrop of success at the Mail’s separate digital subscription product Mail+ as well as a difficult advertising market.
Although the online ad market is growing, the share of revenue going to publishers has plunged this year as all the growth has instead gone to tech platforms.
Mail Online is the most popular commercial news publisher online in the UK with a monthly reach of 25 million, according to Ipsos iris. Globally, Mail Online is the fifth most popular English language news brand globally (according to Similarweb) with 415 million site visits in October.
Lord Rothermere, who took Mail owner DMGT private two years ago, was in the running to buy The Telegraph until the Barclays managed to take back control with help from Abu Dhabi-backed investment fund Redbird IMI.
Rothermere told The Times last month he believed Mail Online could learn from The Telegraph’s profitable subscriber-first model. He said: “I would like to build a subscription part of the business. It would be different. I think we can carry on being mostly advertising, but we can also build a premium subscription product as well.”
Mail+ has become a “substantial” revenue stream for the publisher, Press Gazette’s Future of Media Technology Conference heard in September. It more than doubled its subscriber base in three years, reaching around 160,000 in total and 90,000 in digital-only – despite the Mail Online website carrying much of the same content for free.
It was subsequently relaunched and now includes a digital replica of the newspaper as well as puzzles, podcasts, video show Palace Confidential, and an ad-free experience. This means Mail+ carries all stories that are in the print editions, whereas Mail Online only uses the ones they feel work editorially for the website brand.
Press Gazette’s latest 100k club of English-language publishers with at least 100,000 digital subscribers put Mail+ in 30th place. The Telegraph, which has a hard paywall, was in 14th place with 670,000 digital subscribers.
Press Gazette editor-in-chief Dominic Ponsford summarised the advertising challenge for publishers last month: “While subscription-based businesses like Bloomberg and Dow Jones are still doing well, the vast majority of consumer media publishers are having a tough time… and that spells bad news for democracy and the public’s right to know because independent mass commercial news media is funded by advertising.”
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