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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, 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.’”

You can listen to Recode Media on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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.”

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with the movers and shakers in tech and media every Monday. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • Too Embarrassed to Ask, hosted by Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode, answers all of the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcastor wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • And finally, Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, such as the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. Subscribe today on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on Apple Podcasts — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Peter. Tune in next Thursday for another episode of Recode Media!

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