A brick wall.

If you run a website or blog, there comes a point when it’s time to stop doing it for the love of the craft and start to make a little money off of your efforts. Unfortunately, this is very often more easily said than done.

There are a lot of different ways to monetize your blog or website, from embedded advertisements (which we don’t recommend) to selling merchandize. One controversial method is the paywall. Basically, users can’t access certain content, or certain amounts of content with metered paywalls, without paying for a membership or one-off usage fee.

Paywalls are popular with many large, legacy media sites like The New York Times and other publications that got their start in print. But how much can these sites offer guidance to a small, upstart site like yours? Can the paywall model with smaller sites?

The answer to this question is different for everyone. Take a look at some of the pros and cons of the paywall model below to help decide if it’s right for you and your site.

The Cons of the Paywall Model

It Requires Quality, Unique ContentA young girl holding a copy of The Washington Post from the day after the first moon landing in 1969.

We’re not trying to suggest that your content isn’t any good – if you’re beginning to look into monetizing your site then odds are you’ve got enough of an audience to prove otherwise. But good, or even great content isn’t always enough to justify a paywall to users.

The fact of the matter is, the internet is a really big place. If users come to your site and are asked to pay a fee to see the content they want, the first reaction of most of them will be to try to find similar content somewhere else that’s free. And unless you really, truly offer content that can’t be found anywhere else, odds are they’ll be able to without too much trouble. Or as Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan put it, “The fact that readers like you is not enough to support an online paywall; readers must need you.”

It Might Hinder Growth

Paywalls can be a great for sites that have a preexisting audience that’s willing to pay for their content – like The New York Times or Slate, an online-only publication that has had great success with a premium content service. But if you’re still in the early stages of growing your audience, a paywall can be something of an impediment.

This is because users could be turned away before they’re familiar enough with your content to feel confident paying for it. A metered paywall, which only kicks in after users have viewed certain amounts of free content, could be a good way around this.

It’s Not Impossible to Hack

An illustration of a gold padlock.A Google search for “how to bypass a paywall” returns 46,900 results. This doesn’t mean there are as many different ways to game the paywall system, but it does indicate that there’s pretty substantial interest in finding out how.

Different paywall systems and models are easier or harder to get around depending on specifics, but it’s important to remember that nothing is foolproof.

Odds are there won’t be enough people hacking your paywall to collapse your revenue stream if its otherwise viable, but it’s something to keep in mind when deciding on a revenue model.

Pros of the Paywall Model

It Provides Consistent Revenue

When people pay a regular monthly or yearly membership fee you know more or less how much money you’ve got coming in for a given period of time. This isn’t always the case if you’re relying on one-off payments or merchandise for your revenue. These models can lead to a “feast or famine” dynamic that many people find unappealing (and for good reason).

It Confers Authority

Not to keep harping on the Times, but because many people associate respected outlets like the Grey Lady with the paywall model, there’s an implicit association of paywalls with high quality and authority. When users see that a site has a paywall set up, they assume that whatever’s behind it must really be something special. For that reason, paywalls can be strangely self-justifying in some cases.

A cartoon illustration of a bag with a dollar sign on it.More Reliable than Ads

If you’re not comfortable with a paywall structure, then it’s a fair assumption that advertising is the next revenue model you’ll consider. Well, good luck.

Pay-per-click advertising models like Google AdSense usually pay about $0.50 per click, which might not sound too bad except that the click-through rate on ads tend to be about 0.1%. So if you want to rely on a model that requires 20,000 visitors a day in order to net you enough revenue to buy breakfast the next morning, ads are the way to go.

Even a modestly successful paywall will generate more money in the end than embedded advertisements.

Set Up and Manage Your Paywall with Subscription DNA

If you’re leaning toward using the paywall model, it’s important that you implement it properly. The best way to do that is with Subscription DNA’s subscription billing, paywall, and premium content management software.

Set up member portals, paywalls, subscription services, and more with Subscription DNA’s flexible API. Integrate with WordPress, Joomla, or other platforms easily.

Learn more by filling out the form below to get in touch.