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All Condé Nast titles to go behind paywalls, “the ultimate measure of audience engagement”

Avid readers of Vogue, GQ, Bon Appétit and any of Condé Nast’s other publications now need to prepare to pay up; the iconic publisher will place all its titles behind paywalls by the end of this year.

Three Condé Nast titles—the New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Wired—are already behind metered paywalls, and readers have to subscribe to access more than 4 articles in a month. None of these publications have seen digital traffic drop significantly in response to the paywalls.

“Ultimate measure of audience engagement”

These paywalls have proven the ultimate measure of our audience engagement—beyond time spent, it’s money spent,” Condé Nast CEO Bob Sauerberg told staffers in a memo.

The initiative will affect all other brands in the publishing giant’s portfolio, including Glamour, Architectural Digest and Pitchfork. But the paywalls won’t be a “one-size fits all model,” as outgoing chief Sauerberg stated, “every brand is distinct, and every brand’s paywall will be its own distinct product.”

The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news, noted that paywalls for some Condé brands may affect only specific content, while in case of others they might cast a wider net. Sauerberg mentioned it would let “consumer demand” and “engagement” inform what type of paywall each brand offers.

Return to profitability

According to Jeffrey Trachtenberg, reporter at the Wall Street Journal, “Condé Nast is searching for ways to revive its growth, as print advertising continues to fade and as competing for digital ad dollars against titans like Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook Inc. is proving tough. Paywalls are a key element of its turnaround plans.”

The publishing giant lost $120 million in 2017, but aims to return to profitability by 2020. Sauerberg said Condé Nast expects to rely on advertising for only half of its revenue by the end of 2022, down from 70% last year.

Increasingly, digital publishers—from news outlets to online publications to magazines—are turning to paywalls in response to challenges in their businesses.

How many is too many?

The success or failure of Condé Nast’s push into subscriptions could hold lessons for other major magazine companies and publishers at large, WSJ noted. “The risk for publishers collectively is that consumers will hit a ceiling on the number of publications they can pay for.”

Some readers have expressed their dismay at this announcement, concerned about the increasing trend of publications—especially niche ones, like the music site Pitchfork—going behind paywalls.

Price tag = Confidence

“When you put a price tag on something, that must mean you have confidence in the product,” said Pamela Drucker Mann, Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer at Condé Nast, and one of the leading proponents for the paywalls. She expressed confidence that none of the titles going behind a metered paywall would lose their digital audiences.

Rather, Condé Nast expects subscription revenue to significantly increase over the next few years, notes Monica Ray, Condé Nast’s Executive VP of Consumer Marketing. According to her, the advantage of a metered paywall is that it gives casual readers free access to limited articles that they might share on social media, allowing the titles to grow their audiences by reaching new readers.

What’s next?

Following publishers like the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal that have successfully introduced paywalls, many publishers including The Atlantic, Business Insider and New York Magazine-parent New York Media have moved toward charging for digital subscriptions.

Once a giant like Condé Nast declares an end to the free-for-all content buffet digital audiences have become used to, it certainly appears that we’re entering a new era in publishing.