Losing serendipitous readers at the paywall

NiemanLab had an interesting piece today on how the Times of London is attempting to attract people to stories despite the stories being stuck behind a paywall. A developer created an HTML template that an editor can use to send to the paper’s reporters and ask them to retweet the link to the story.

Got that? To increase generational reach — that is, how far an RT goes — we’re going to email our staff and tell them to retweet. And we’ve made it frictionless for them to do it.

Of course, anyone who clicks on the RT is going to run into … wait for it … the stupid paywall. What purpose does advertising a story serve if people can’t get to it?

It’s something I’ve never understood about the ‘everything is behind the paywall all the time’ concept. If you want to attract readers, give free samples.  Limit the number of free samples — 10 a month seems to be the magic number — and if people think you’re worth something, they’ll buy the full product.

Here’s The Times’ Ben Whitelaw:

Owning an story can be hard on social media when you operate a subscription model…We thought about how we could change this and realised that our best weapon was our journalists, each with their own network of followers and fans. But we were asking a lot to expect them to keep track of stories breaking on social media (especially when on deadline) so we knew we needed a way of making it easy for them…

[Developer Alex Muller] then created an HTML template to display a single tweet inside an email, and used Twitter’s Web Intents to add links to simplify the process for journalists and others to retweet — one click in the email, and then one confirmation click on twitter.com to complete the action…

The result of using ‘The retweeter’ is that our big stories reach more people. For example, The Sunday Times Insight team had a big story on lobbying in Westminster which was retweeted by 30 people, most of whom were Sunday Times staff. Twitter analytics showed us that this tweet had reach three times greater than our usual tweets.

There are two issues: 1. The problem is misidentified (word isn’t getting out vs. people aren’t able to access it). 2. How does 30 RTs count as a victory? And the number we don’t know is the important one: How many clicks did we see from non-subscribers who followed this path:

Viewed Tweet –> Hit paywall –> Paid for access