Why Does Your Content Have A Gatekeeper?

Why do news websites like NYTimes.com, FinancialTimes.com, and ESPN.com continue posting articles on social media that require you to be a subscriber to view the entire article?

A recent exchange I had with @FTcare (Financial Times’ customer support Twitter account):

And their response, which to me offers an unintuitive and clunky experience:

Subscription gates make sense, but entice a little better

Of course, everyone is concerned with the bottom line. You need money to keep the doors open and the lights on. While subscription rates continue to decline for most major news publications, we’re beginning to see an increase of those news organizations keep their content behind a subscription gate, which makes perfect sense.

It’s an understood, and expected evolution. Digital subscriptions replace doorstep delivery. Display media replace print ads.

But you’re not going to convince me that I should pay you (sometimes a hefty sum) each month for your content, if each time you send me to an article, I have 100 words to judge the quality of your editorial. It’s just not going to happen. In fact, in many cases it will plant the seeds from which will grow a wall distancing the common user from their voice.

They just need to allow for easier access to shared stories, especially when the publication is the one doing the sharing. It’s the gateway drug. Let’s say there’re 1-5 articles a day that’re the cream of the crop. Share those, and make them free. You’ll have a much higher likelihood of converting the casual reader into a paying customer if you allow them to see the power of your editorial staff first.

Here are the options, as I see them

  • Allow all content to be freely accessed. Commence littering your site with ads, small and large, as well as bogging your videos down with pre-roll. Oh, and don’t forget the interstitials…
  • Ensure that all content shared out directly from the official social media accounts of the company / organization are able to be freely accessed. Cookie users and block their second page view, if needs be. Just don’t create the experience described above.
  • Make all content that’s shared by anyone free to view, again, putting up a subscription gate on the second page view. If you need to, put an interstitial. Forbes does this, and while I hate the interstitials, they are very easy to close out.
  • Let users access a limited number of articles per month, but require that they register. This is reasonable, but still the experience is prohibitive and unintuitive.
  • Screw everyone, and make your front page a login / register screen. I suggest painting subscribers on the company walls if you take this route, because there won’t be any new subscribers joining your ship. Also, all employees should take their vacation days and sell their stock. This vessel is going down.

Hell, what do I know?

What do you think is fair? What’s the best user experience? What helps conversion the most?

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