Even as the Trump Subscriber Surge slows some, more and more publishers are asking themselves a renewed question: Can't we figure out a way to get more revenue from digital readers?
On Thursday, Conde Nast all but acknowledged that Vanity Fair would join The New Yorker as just Conde Nast's second publication to charge for digital access. Within six months, the Graydon Carter-edited Vanity Fair will try to cash in on the Trump Bump, that post-election phenomenon that matured into a subscriber surge in the first quarter of 2017. ["Trump Bump Grows Into Subscription Surge -- and Not Just for the New York Times"]
For Conde, the Vanity Fair plan should be seen as a wider company strategy move. Conde is exploring meters for titles beyond The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, sources tell me.
In fact, it was Wired's newly appointed editor-in-chief Nick Thompson who was instrumental in the New Yorker's digital pay progress, as he served as the magazine's digital editor before recently taking on the Wired job. Wired itself is a good candidate for a paywall strategy. The key: do Conde's analytics and consumer marketing staff believe they can convert a sufficient number of any title's digital audience to justify the work of a pay system?
It is The New Yorker's experience that has lit this fuse, selling more than a third of a million new subscriptions since Election Day.
Consider one number that tells you -- in short form -- everything you need to know about the strategy. Today, readers contribute 55% of all The New Yorker's revenue, helping pay for that staff of more than 200. For decades, however, magazines have relied on lower-cost subscriptions, and then dwindling higher-priced newsstand sales, for no more than a combined quarter to a third of overall income.
Importantly, The New Yorker understood the peril of Silicon Valley's misguided "information wants to be free" mantra early on. In 2001, David Remnick, three years after he became top editor, instituted a paywall when newyorker.com launched. It didn't go metered -- that wonderful Financial Times-inspired sample-but-don't-freeload model -- until 2014, but has since spurred the rapid increase in digital subscribers.
Editor's pick: Originally published April 14, 2017.