The Daily Telegraph is the latest newspaper to adopt a metered paywall, requiring readers in the UK to purchase a subscription for unlimited access to its website. The conservative- (and Conservative-) leaning paper, which was the first national British daily to go online in 1994, is following in the footsteps of the New York Times and the Washington Post paywall models in offering readers a set number of articles – 20 – before prompting them to buy a subscription. It is the first general-interest newspaper in the UK to do so; the Financial Times has had a metered paywall for years.
On its website, the Telegraph presented the paywall announcement as a “reward” to its loyal print and tablet plan subscribers, who will have continued web access at no additional charge. The Web Pack subscription, which includes access from smartphones, is £1.99 a month, and the Digital Pack, which includes tablet access and mobile apps, is £9.99 a month. The paywall will go into effect immediately, and potential subscribers are offered a 30-day free trial.
While the metered paywall has caught on more in the U.S. than the UK, high-profile British newspapers have been experimenting with subscription-based revenue models in recent years. The Rupert Murdoch-owned Times has a restrictive, unmetered paywall that does not allow for access via outside links shared on social media. Initially, the paywall was built to keep Google from accessing it as well. As one of the media tycoon’s newspaper managers put it to Reuters, "Rupert didn't just build a paywall; he circled it with barbed wire, dug a moat around it and put crocodiles in the moat."
After signing up only 131,000 subscribers in two years, Murdoch in the fall of 2012 relaxed the paywall to allow for Times stories to appear in Google searches, while still charging a fee for readers to access them in full. According to the National Readership Survey's PADD report for 2012, the Times fell behind the more liberal Guardian, the Telegraph and the Independent in circulation for the year. The Guardian has resisted any kind of paywall so far, and has expanded its U.S. brand in the last year.
The Telegraph’s introduction of a paywall comes as no surprise to its competitors or its overseas readers, who have been subject to a metered paywall since late 2012.
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Earlier this month, the Washington Post announced it would implement a metered paywall this summer, reversing an earlier position against it. This week, the San Francisco Chronicle launched a pay “premium content” site, separate from its main news site -- which will remain free for the time being.