Imagine if you could read every article on your favourite platform, without needing to overcome a paywall first. Instead you pay what you want, when you want. Would you support such an approach?
Many readers are willing to do so and for years they have supported the online presence of the German daily newspaper taz and the British-based Guardian with voluntary payments. And since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in particular, these contributions have been growing steadily. But not only for those two publications – more and more publishers around the world are relying on the contribution model in the current crisis and are seeing success with it.
Let’s take a closer look at a few examples.
- The Standard: From Zero to 6,000 in a Few Weeks
Austria’s The Standard has been relying on contributions since autumn of 2019. After an extended test phase among the active users of its community, the daily newspaper rolled out the offer across the entire medium in January 2020. The result: In the first four months of this year, the number of voluntary payers rose by 5,500. During this period, the Standard raised 160,000 euros. And all of this virtually from a cold start: in December 2019 the offer was 600 payers and almost 20,000 euros in contributions.
- Guardian US: 50,000 New Permanent Supporters in April
Evelyn Webster, CEO of the US’ Guardian, gave a similar report in a recent podcast interview with Digiday. The Guardian mainly receives one-time contributions, but supporters keep coming back. In April, one reader pledged to support the title with 500 US dollars every month.
- Skift: $33 per Webinar
The travel trade medium Skift, which has discarded its long-prepared metered paywall and replaced it with a contribution offer during the coronavirus, is also celebrating strong results. In its first month, Skift recorded “significant additional sales in the six-digit range.” Instead of events, which previously accounted for around 40 percent of its revenues, Skift now also offers webinars. And for these, participants voluntarily pay an average of $33. A seminar in March on the subject of business travel alone attracted 3,000 participants and the average amount paid was $37. That’s a total of over $100,000 in sales from voluntary user payments for a single webinar!
- Archant and LMA Launch Contributions
Spurred on by the success of other media brands, the British Archant Media Group also announced the introduction of contributions in March. The media group includes almost 50 local media outlets across the UK. “I believe this works well with The Guardian and TNE because readers of those titles care passionately about their existence, and are actually delighted to have the opportunity to help keep them going. They don’t find it onerous. They are glad to contribute,” chief content officer Matt Kelly said in his announcement. “The same should be true of all our local titles. We keep our communities supplied with important content. It costs us a lot of money to do this, and none of our titles – none of them – have a God-given right to eternal existence. If the community values us and wants us to keep on doing what we do, we have to give them the wherewithal to help us do that.”
The U.S. Local Media Association is also launching its own service – the COVID-19 Local News Fund. Independent, family-run media companies can register for this programme. “If you believe your community and your audiences value the local journalism you do, believe it’s vital to a functioning democracy, and would be devastated if it were gone, it is important to level with them about needing help to get through the economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the LMA said when announcing the program on its website. The fund is intended to bundle the contributions for various local media and thus help local journalism throughout the USA through this challenging time.
- LaterPay Contributions: Growth Increased Tenfold
At LaterPay, we’re seeing a similar influx in contributions, and the community spirit is evident across multiple different media. Across all of our customers who use contributions, we recorded a 1,186 percent increase in April (compared to January 2020). Voluntary payments have thus increased more than tenfold. And readers voluntarily pay more than they would have had to pay for a subscription. The largest single contribution we’ve seen was $500 to a single publisher – not once but twice! – and the average individual contribution over the last 90 days was $31.36, which is higher than the cost of some publications’ annual subscriptions!
Evelyn Webster is convinced that the pandemic will accelerate the growth in voluntary payments, which in 2019 put the Guardian in the black for the first time in 20 years: “There is absolutely no doubt that that is what’s driving the current trend. We hit 114 million browsers in March, and that was an increase [of] 80 to 90 percent over the prior month and about 160% on the prior year.” This trend applies to the entire Guardian offering: in April alone it registered more than 50,000 new regular supporters. By comparison, the average monthly growth last year was almost 14,000 new contributors.
I’m convinced: contributions appeal to your readers’ sense of community. Instead of feeling forced to subscribe, they feel invited to contribute to your journalistic work, to give other readers with less financial means free access to your content and to keep your business running. This fits perfectly into the zeitgeist of the pandemic. Community is the value of the hour, and contributions are a direct result
Founder and CEO, LaterPay
About: LaterPay’s “use now, pay later” approach empowers publishers to monetize the vast space that lives between ads and subscriptions and turn users into paying customers. Its patented technology enables micropayments without upfront registration, creating a running tab through which users can consume paid digital content and services with one or two clicks – a frictionless experience that turns traffic into transactions.