Which model works best for publishers? Online media pass vs. "traditional" paywall

Only a short time ago, it would have seemed unimaginable that paywalls would be the accepted norm for media sites. But surprisingly, they have finally become accepted as the normal payment model for print publishers looking to make some money on their online content. Readers still complain about them of course, but we understand why they’re there. After all, media companies have to earn revenue off of their digital versions, and paywalls, though not perfect, are the method of choice.

Big newspaper media like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal already charge readers after they’ve viewed a certain amount of articles and The Washington Postand the San Francisco Chronicle recently said they will charge readers for online content as well. Smaller papers are joining the ranks too.

But is the paywall the best way to for media companies to profit on digital? It’s certainly not the only way. Several third-party companies have begun offering online media passes in an attempt to find a different slant on the paywall model, but so far, few are making a big splash. Online media passes allow users to manage multiple digital subscriptions in one place and can offer a new way for media companies to gain revenue from their digital readers, according to Press+, which works with about 400 publishers.

Press+ argues that online media passes offer a way for a publisher to launch a metered subscription model, package web, mobile and tablet content into a single subscription package, boost circulation revenue by offering discounted digital access to print subscribers. Plus, it’s outsourced and doesn’t require the internal IT team’s time and effort.

Though Press+ is seeing some success, goliath Google didn’t fare so well. The company’s One Pass product only lasted about a year and only had two publishers join. In an article on EContent.com, author Alan Mutter said he believes Google’s product didn’t catch on because media companies were worried about what Google could do with their customer data.

However, Press+ argues that its model offers a win for publishers because it opens up new ways to turn a profit while preserving existing advertising revenue and online readers.

Similarly, blogger Andrew Sullivan made a big splash with his move into monthly passes, now offering access to his blog, The Dish, for $2 a month versus just a $20-a-year option. He uses TinyPass, another small company that that helps publishers sell content online. Clearly, online media passes demonstrate that they offer value, but will it be enough to take over paywalls?

Do you think online media passes will ever successfully surpass the paywall model?

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