Apr 26, 2023 - Economy

Exclusive: Time to remove digital paywall

Photo Illustration by Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Time is fully removing its digital paywall beginning June 1, its CEO Jessica Sibley told Axios.

Why it matters: The company, which turned 100 in March, has had some form of a digital paywall since 2011.

Driving the news: Sibley said the shift is both a business and editorial decision.

  • "The opportunity to reach more audiences globally, that are younger, and that are diverse, is really important to Sam and myself," she noted, referencing Time's newly-appointed editor in chief Sam Jacobs. Jacobs is the youngest editor in chief in Time's history.
  • Time plans to produce more ad-supported, digital content that will live on its website, its mobile app and across social media.
  • The company will continue to cover the same types of topics editorially and to lean heavily into a few key focus areas, such as climate and sustainability, health care and politics, she said.

Details: Time currently has 1.3 million print subscribers and 250,000 digital subscribers.

  • The digital content from Time's magazine will now be free, alongside all other content on the website, including 100 years' worth of Time's archived content.
  • The company will still charge for the print product and still offer a paid digital version of the print magazine through retailers (like Amazon Kindle and Apple News) and through Apple’s App Store.
  • Paid subscribers to the website will be notified of the changes immediately, and their subscription payments will expire when the paywall is removed June 1.

Be smart: Being able to reach more people and expand Time's brand exposure is a key focus for Sibley as she seeks to grow Time's business globally, especially across events.

  • For example, last year, Time expanded its TIME100 Impact Awards to Dubai.
  • Removing any friction that would prevent Time from expanding its audience "is going to allow us to do what we need to do for the next 100 years," she said.
  • "We believe in the democratization of content."

Between the lines: With more of Time's business shifting to different revenue streams, like events and licensing, the company has flexibility to experiment with a new subscription strategy.

  • "We know that in media, we're always looking for new models and are continuing on our digital transformation and innovation journey," Sibley said.
  • Part of that process includes "understanding consumer behavior and making sure that we are moving in the right direction with how consumers are engaging in content," she added.
  • Today, Time Studios, the company's TV and film division, brings in around 25% of its revenues. Last year, the company earned around $200 million in revenue.

Catch up quick: Time first launched a hard paywall on its website in 2011 against all of its magazine content. Later that year, it added the hard paywall on all of its archives. It experimented with different types of meters and payment structures across its multiple brands in the years since.

  • In 2015 and 2016, when Time still was a part of Time Inc.,and owned a slew of niche print magazine brands, it began to experiment with metered paywalls that get triggered after a reader visits a website a certain amount of times. It ultimately returned to a hard paywall model in 2016.
  • In 2021, three years after Time had been acquired by billionaire Marc Benioff, the company returned to a metered paywall across its whole site, including its archives.

The big picture: Legacy publishers are still trying to figure out how to make money online. Many media companies leaned more heavily into subscriptions during the Trump presidency and COVID-19 era, but with inflation running high, subscription fatigue is setting in for some.

  • Gannett, the U.S.'s largest local newspaper company, is reducing the number of articles behind its paywall in order to boost the company's ad revenue, Axios has reported.
  • Quartz dropped its paywall last year. Spotify is dropping paywalls on some of its podcasts. Netflix, Disney+ and other streamers have debuted cheaper, ad-supported subscription plans.

The bottom line: "I don't think that we're going to be alone or not followed by others that are going to look at new business models that are right for their businesses, for their audiences and how potential consumers new and existing and everything in between are able to access that content," Sibley said.

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