US newspaper The New York Times has become the latest publisher to put up a hard registration wall, following extensive registration and log-on tests last month.
Visitors to any of the publisher’s articles are now met by a request to keep reading by creating a free account, or by logging in.
Many of the articles are still free to view, but it appears that access to metered articles will now be registered to the account rather than the browser.
The introduction of the registration wall comes just after Google’s release of Chrome 76, which remedied a loophole allowing sites to detect and block people who are browsing in Incognito Mode.
Chrome’s Incognito window is used for private browsing, where users can visit websites without their browsing history being stored. Incognito Mode also temporarily blocks a website’s ability to read or write cookies, so it has become a popular way of getting around metered paywalls, which rely on cookies to know how many articles a reader has left.
A number of publishers including the New York Times, The Washington Post and the Boston Globe had recently taken measures to block users from accessing content at all if they were using the private browser.
But Chrome 76 rolled out with an increased focus on privacy, with Google putting measures in place to ensure those using Incognito Mode can’t be detected by publishers.
At the end of July when the new browser rolled out, an estimated 33% of publishers with paywalls were affected. Google’s advice to publishers that wished to deter meter circumvention was to look into other options like “requiring free registration to view any content, or hardening their paywalls.”
The New York Times seems to have taken this advice to heart, although a spokesperson for the publisher said that the registration wall “is not related specifically to Google 76”.
“It’s a continuation of the testing we’ve been engaged in for some time, with the goal of further optimising our pay model,” they said.
Many publishers like the Washington Post, the Telegraph and the Times have required some level of user registration for months, or even years.
Although it inevitably increases attrition, they have argued that drive-by readers who aren’t willing to register aren’t worth anything to the brand, whereas those who are willing to share information in exchange for an article are far more valuable as potential subscribers.
“When a user is registered and logged-in, we can communicate with them and understand their preferences and patterns of consumption more effectively than if they were anonymous,” the New York Times said to WNiP in a statement.
The publisher is now very close to being a majority-digital company, reaching 3.78 million digital subscribers in June. It will be interesting to see whether the introduction of a registration wall slows or accelerates that subscription growth.
Even for publishers without paywalls, some level of reader registration can be a good way of getting to know their audience, and providing a way of reaching out to them.
It’s almost certain that we’ll see many more reader registration boxes popping up on publisher’s websites over the coming months as a more reliable way of allowing access to meters.
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