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Reader revenue

Image by Jonathan Brinkhorst

What are some of the strategies that publishers can put in place to generate income from their readership? Here we focus on three alternatives, and explore key things to consider when it comes to developing a reader revenue strategy.

This blog reflects some of the key takeaways from the reader revenue session of the PINF professional development programme (summer 2020). 

To explore some of the challenges and opportunities around reader revenue strategies, we looked into three alternatives taking different approaches:

  • Axate: an online ‘wallet’, or casual payment system, that allows users to pay to access content from multiple publishers without the need for full subscriptions. 

  • PressPatron: a New Zealand based online platform that allows readers (or 'supporters') to make recurring or one-off contributions to their favourite media sites.

  • Steady: a Berlin based organisation offering membership solutions that includes platform integration. 

Membership models and 'privileges' for paying readers:

  • How do 'privileges' in membership models work? Sebastian Esser, of Steady, explains that 'privileges' work by sectioning-off parts of the news platform content so that they are exclusive for paying members. This can be achieved most obviously by a paywall, but there are other options. These include: offering early access to content, providing special or exclusive content (for example, a ‘look behind the scenes’), or the opportunity for paying readers to meet the writers and editors and interact with them.

  • TOP TIP: Sebastian recommends not to over-complicate the offer with too many rewards. It is better to focus on finding out what the value proposition for your particular users is, and using privileges to communicate to that effectively.


Finding a balance between wholly monetised and free content:

  • Dominic Young, of Axate, explains that most Axate publishers offer at least some free content on their sites. Axate’s charging model allows publishers to charge per article, but also to set a charging cap after which access is free for a period. Some publishers charge, say, for four articles after which further access is free for the rest of the week. Others only charge for the first article someone reads each day, with access for the rest of the day being free – a little like a cover price. Publishers are free to choose the pricing and approach that works best.

  • In order to make this decision, it is important, once again, to understand the value proposition of your publication. In most cases, it is the product as a whole that is attracting your audience, and not just the individual article.

  • On this point, publishers taking part in the PINF professional development programme raised the point that public health information should be made freely available in general. And on the other hand, pieces covering widely available content would not be attractive for readers to pay for.


Barriers of entry and inclusive monetisation strategies:

  • How can reader revenue models avoid excluding low-income readers? This is particularly relevant to news publishers serving underserved communities.

  • Alex Clark, of PressPatron, explains that solutions that allow for one-off or repeat donations can be beneficial to publishers in this position. This model has the potential of ensuring there are no barriers to entry for readers who are unable to pay for content, while facilitating revenue generation from readers who are able and wiling to donate. And what are some of the possible mobilising factors driving donations? Wanting to feel a "part of something", and a desire to support quality independent journalism.

  • Another alternative option: "pay if you can" models where users can opt to dismiss a request to pay for access to content. This is another iteration of the donation-based reader revenue models.

Questions? Comments? Contributions? If you'd like to share your views or experience on this topic with the PINF team, get in touch.

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