The Telegraph is tightening its paywall

The Telegraph has tightened its paywall strategy this week, after three years of running metered access to its website. The national newspaper wants to win more paying subscribers, and has rolled out Telegraph Premium, a subscription service for between £2 ($2.50) and £6 ($7.50) a week.  About 20 percent of Telegraph content will be available only to Premium subscribers; the remaining 80 percent will remain free to access, including all video.

“The driving factor for this is to increase engagement with readers,” said The Telegraph’s chief customer officer Robert Bridge. “We still need the reach, but this is about direct connections.”

The plan, he said, is to triple its digital subscriber base by 2017, though the publisher doesn’t publicly disclose how many paying subscribers currently it has. Telegraph Premium content will consist of columns, exclusive interviews and in-depth features and analysis. There won’t be any internal changes as a result but editors will decide on a daily basis which content will go behind the paywall.

Although The Telegraph has stressed that maintaining the reach of its free-to-access content is still critical for keeping advertisers happy, having more granular data on more engaged users should also be appealing for them, said Bridge. To date, the metered access simply hasn’t been yielding the kind of audience data the publisher needed to grow.

“After I joined 6 months ago, I could see from the data that people would just circumvent the meter using different browsers and devices,” he said. “It was one of the business challenges that led us to this approach.”

Douglas McCabe, CEO of media analysts Enders, said the changes are the right move for The Telegraph. “Going for scale alone is not a long-term strategy when the vast majority of digital marketing revenues are going to the platforms, notably Google and Facebook.” He added that the industry as a whole needs to move beyond the concept of paywall, and focus on service provision.

We spoke to Bridge about how it’s going to use data to convert readers into subscribers. Here are the takeaways:

The data play 
The metered paywall, which let users access up to eight articles a week for free, may have had some audience data gaps given that so many people were finding ways to skirt it. But there is a lot of useful information the publisher has also gained. The Telegraph has been using algorithms to create about 20 different audience segments based on who was reading what articles before hitting the paywall. “We had nearly 1 million unique users generating over 100 pageviews a month [each], so they’re one of the groups we hope to turn into Premium subscribers,” said Bridge.

Those segments are being loaded into The Telegraph’s DMP, where they’ll be used to power the marketing and promoting of the new mobile app and the Premium products. “We’ll be looking at integrating that data into our thinking on content recommendation also within the other platforms,” added Bridge. That could be email, or on the app and its websites.

Like most legacy newspapers, The Telegraph has been working hard to instill a more data-driven culture. Bridge, who was previously marketing chief for Yahoo, said internally the teams have been restructured to sit product, design, data and analytics teams more closely at the center of the organization.

The social angle 
While the Premium subscriptions launch is a clear strategy to drive subscriptions, The Telegraph is still taking a hybrid approach, with 80 percent of its online content being available for free. For now, this means all video will be open access — as is the case with other paywall publishers the Financial Times and the Economist — at least until there is a clear path toward monetization.

The Telegraph won’t be publishing its paywalled content to social platforms any time soon, but all its free-to-access content will run on Instant Articles and Apple News. The latter’s iOS recent update has already driven a large spike of traffic to The Telegraph, according to Bridge. All its pages are AMP-coded also.

The road to conversion
To encourage people to become Premium subscribers, the publisher will make exclusive interviews and other in-depth articles open to people willing to register their details. The team will then keep close tabs on what kind of content encourages people to register, and then subscribe.

“One of the business challenges we had before is that we didn’t see enough logged-in behavior to help us inform our data strategy and products,” said Bridge. “Registration is a key point.”

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