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Paywalls make content better, Wired editor Nick Thompson says

Wired’s wall goes up today: Four free clicks, then $20 a year.

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Wired Editor in Chief Nick Thompson Wired

Starting today at 9 am ET, Wired.com will have a paywall — although infrequent visitors might not notice it right away.

“You can read whatever you want, but if you read five stories in a month, we ask you to please pay us,” Wired Editor in Chief Nick Thompson said on the latest episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka.

Once Wired visitors cross the five-story mark, they are asked to pay $20 per year to continue reading, with the added bonus of no advertisements, although Thompson said the first three months will be free. Customers are becoming more accustomed to paywalls, he said, and media businesses are realizing a simple but true fact: They work, while advertising increasingly does not.

“All digital publishers have to think about this,” he said. “You can come up with lots of different business models: You can host conferences in Huntington Beach, which is an excellent idea. You can have podcasts, you can have videos, where the CPMs are pretty good. Or, you can say, ‘We want you to pay us.’”

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On the new podcast, Thompson reflected on his time as the online editor of a different Conde Nast-published magazine, the New Yorker, which rolled out a paywall under his watch. He said the ad model that is dominant in online media skews publishers’ incentives toward “slideshows, rehashed news and clickbait,” because all of that is enticing to readers but dirt cheap to produce.

“When you create a subscription business model, your incentives change significantly,” he said. “You’re trying to build a really deep relationship with your reader. No one is going to subscribe if they think that what you’re doing is not unique ... You do want as many readers as possible. You do want people to come frequently. But what you really want them to do is love your stories.”

At the New Yorker, that shift in incentives changed not just how readers thought about the content, but how everyone — including writers and editors — did their jobs.

“[Before the paywall] I would interview writers for jobs and they’d say, ‘How do I know that you guys are going to stick to your ideals?’” Thompson said. “And the answer would be, ‘Well, trust me! It’s the New Yorker, we’ve been around for 90 years, of course we’re going to stick to our ideals.’”

“But actually, the argument works better when it’s, ‘Trust me, we’ve been around for 90 years and our business model depends on us doing that!’” he added. “It became easier to recruit.”

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This article originally appeared on Recode.net.