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A little over a year ago, we introduced a paywall at WIRED. The idea, as I wrote back then, was largely about us. To start, we wanted to give ourselves stronger structural incentives to do great reporting. When your business depends on subscriptions, your economic success depends on publishing stuff your readers love—not just stuff they click. It’s good to align one’s economic and editorial imperatives! And by so doing, we knew we’d be guaranteeing writers, editors, and designers that no one would be asked to create clickbait crap of the kind all digital reporters dread. (Though, admittedly, we do publish some of that still.)
But the idea was also broader. At WIRED we genuinely believe that journalism as a whole needs to diversify its revenue streams. The advertising business has supported this business for decades—but digital advertising is unruly, unpredictable, and slowly being swallowed by the social media platforms. Paywalls aren’t for every publication, and it would be nice to live in a world in which every reader could access every idea for free. But, in general, paid content seems like the best bet to help this essential and embattled industry. So, with that spirit in mind, here are some thoughts about what we learned in year one that might apply to other publications.
First off: It worked! Of course you’d expect me to say that, but it really did. I promise. We increased the number of new digital subscribers in the first year by nearly 300 percent