The 10 Best Paywall Providers For Your Content Business in 2022

Why use Paywall software?

Monetizing your digital publication requires a crucial decision: Should I set up a paywall?

Most publishers find that their digital ad revenues are trending downward and are looking to replace and build revenue with paid subscription access. Monetizing your content changes your approach online as you now have the ability to focus squarely on the reader experience in order to grow revenue. This contrasts with pleasing advertisers on your website, as advertising online is an interruptive experience. The good news is that you can accomplish both goals: exposing advertisers a higher quality readership, and subscribers a smooth and seamless website subscription experience (but that is another story).

So which paywall software is the right choice for the publisher?

Most paywall and membership software will offer you a way to restrict and charge for access to your article content. But there are a number of paywall types with different approaches and service offerings. Each publisher has a unique audience, content, and thus paywall needs. This makes deciding on a paywall crucial and more confusing. We have taken the time to review the top paywall contenders that are a best fit for news and magazine publishers.

Let’s get to it. If you are a publisher and are ready to get serious about building your audience and subscription revenue what features are you really looking for? Lets break down paywall offerings into three main areas that are important to know about when making a decision.

1. How types of paywalls restrict access

A metered paywall is the most popular way to build subscription revenue today. It lets readers sample your content before asking them to sign up for a subscription. With this type of paywall, visitors can read a certain number of articles each month for free before the paywall kicks in. This is a great option for publishers that produce original premium content, as it allows them to attract readers by giving away some articles for free. Plus, it gives readers more control over what they want to read, which takes much of the burden off publishers when it comes to deciding which articles are free and which are paid. Metered paywalls also have the critical benefit of opening up your content to search engine ranking and social media sharing, which helps drive new visitor traffic to your website. 

A hard paywall locks your content behind a subscription wall and is the least common paywall today. Most publishers will hand-select which articles are free vs. paid. This may be a good option for publications with fewer, long-form, and/or clearly high-value articles. Publishers with strong brands and marketing can also build subscriptions even by locking out Google search and social sharing traffic. Locked articles can’t be indexed by Google and generally aren’t shared via social media (though there can be bypass options) so many publishers are forced to produce a good deal of free content to build their audiences.

The final paywall type is a dynamic paywall. Dynamic paywalls are similar to metered paywalls, but add specific targeting and restriction options. They can ask casual website visitors to create a free account to access a limited number of articles. They can prompt readers to sign up for a paid account based on the category the article is in, the subscription level of a reader, location, or other rule based metric. These paywalls can hard lock, unlock or meter content based on the reader and their behavior.

2. How does paywall software actually work on your website?

Paywall software approaches are different and determine how your data is handled and what kind of experience the reader has.

The CMS (Content Management System)

The first is a paywall included as part of a complete content management system (CMS). A CMS can either be proprietary to the software developer, open source (WordPress, Drupal, etc), or custom-built for the publisher. This is a bigger, more comprehensive decision than just choosing a paywall: it will determine the online presence and interface of your entire publication. It may be a good fit for publishers looking for a one-shop stop for their website content, subscription, and ad platform. The downside of a CMS and paywall solution is it may take longer to migrate article content and subscribers into and may be more difficult to move off the platform down the road.content and subscribers into and may be more difficult to move off the platform down the road.

Saas/javascript

The second software type is a SaaS/javascript paywall. This Software as a Service option usually provides html code that is dropped into your existing website. This restricts content and sends subscriber data to the externally-hosted paywall software. This option can be a good choice for publishers seeking a quick setup. It may be less reader friendly as externally hosted paywalls can be more limiting with their website customization options. On the flip side, some enterprise level SaaS options are more integrated with your CMS which offers more customization options but ups the  complexity of the integration. Managing subscriber access to your article content can be challenging if subscriber data is stored on an external system.

Native Paywall

The final type is a native paywall, one which is built specifically for a CMS such as WordPress or Drupal. Native software integrates more seamlessly with the CMS and typically has more flexibility in how it is customized for the publisher’s content and audience. This gives the publisher more control over the reader experience and also more control over subscriber data since it stays on their website. A possible downside is that customizing native software can be complex and may require more developer knowledge.

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Peter Ericson

Want to learn more about growing your audience and subscriptions with your paywall? Get in touch with Pete.

3. What paywall features do you need and what pitfalls should you avoid?

Campaign Tracking and A/B Testing

Does your software choice allow you to set up, create, change, and monitor a paywall campaign? This ability gives you valuable insight into user behavior and your subscription funnel. 

Customizations

How much customization does your chosen paywall software offer? Do you need integrations with your current software vendors? Or custom build databases?

Integrations

How many third-party integrations does your paywall software make available? Does it connect to your favored payment gateway or CRM? Does it interact easily with your email campaigns or your e-commerce shop? Does it offer integrations with iOS or Android apps?

Print Circulation

If you are a print publisher, does your chosen paywall software send subscriber data to your circulation software?

Additional revenue opportunities

Does your paywall software only allow for subscription revenue or does it give you other options for revenue, such as member level access, pay-per-article, group and corporate subscriptions, paid newsletter, hiding ads, and blocking incognito browsing. Can you accept donations or create other new products? 

Possible pitfalls to avoid

Revenue share: Does your paywall software take a percentage of your revenue? Are transactions controlled and processed through your own payment gateway? How easy is it to export all your subscriber data if you need to move down the road?

Server caching can cause subscription restrictions to not function

Article content caching is important for page load speed. It is used by many hosting companies and can also be set up with plugins. Caching essentially holds on to certain article page elements and can cause paywall restrictions to not load. Make sure the software you choose works with your hosting and caching setup.

Membership plug-ins and billing systems

Is your chosen software a long term subscription solution for your publication? Or is it designed to provide access services to membership-based organizations? Membership software can work for publishers but tends to offer limited customization ability and doesn’t offer publisher-specific features. Learn more about what the difference is between a metered paywall and membership software.

The List: 10 Most Trusted Paywall Platforms for Publishers

Now that you know what to look out for, let’s take a close look at the software. These are all platforms that we have reviewed and focus on the specific needs of the content publisher.

Leaky Paywall for WordPress

1. Leaky Paywall
Paywall type: Dynamic 
Software type: WordPress native
Print circulation: Yes
Features: Deep WordPress integration, high level of customization, many publisher specific integrations, reader targeting options, A/B testing, pay-per-article, iOS & Android apps
Pricing: Starts at $249/mo + no revenue share (free core version available)
Best fit: Medium to larger news and magazine publishers using WordPress

Leaky Paywall’s focus is on engaging publisher audiences and serving up a seamless subscription experience to grow revenue. It offers many ways to monetize content. Leaky Paywall is built natively for WordPress so all subscriber data lives on-site and uses the publisher’s payment gateway of choice. It integrates with many CRMs, circulation software, and many other CRMs and other WordPress plugins. Highly customizable but a WordPress developer is recommended to unlock its potential. Want to learn more? Get in touch

Zephr

2. Zephyr
Paywall type: Dynamic
Software type: SaaS/Javascript
Print circulation: Yes
Features: Intelligent paywall, identity and access management, corporate subscriptions, multi-site access
Pricing: Custom
Best fit: Enterprise-level publication

Zephr’s focus is on building, testing, and optimizing the digital subscription journeys in order to create personalized experiences to help grow revenue. It offers strong identity and access restrictions to manage logins.

Pelcro

3. Pelcro
Paywall type: Dynamic
Software type: SaaS/Javascript
Circulation software integration: No
Features: A/B campaigns & testing
Pricing: Starts at $499+/month
Best fit: Generalized membership and e-commerce businesses, publishers looking for a quick start with basic customizations

Pelcro self-describes as an “all-in-one subscription and membership management” software. They serve publishers, media, wellness, and e-learning. Limited customization options to match your publication’s branding.

Pidgeon Paywall

4. Pigeon Paywall
Paywall type: Metered
Software type: SaaS/Javascript
Print circulation: Yes
Features: Print management, incognito browser blocking, pay-per-view
Pricing: $1500+ set-up fee + $99+ monthly cost +10%  transaction fees
Best fit: Newspaper publishers looking for a simple paywall with print management

Pigeon was originally built for digital newspapers and includes an option for managing your print circulation. They present themselves as a simple plug-and-play option. They offer a number of options for monetizing your content, including limited subscriptions, corporate memberships, or location-based access. They manage your data, take transaction fees, and apply additional fees for print publications and high volume sites. 

Piano subscriptions

5. Piano
Paywall type: Dynamic
Software type: SaaS/Javascript
Print circulation: Yes
Features: API integrations, A/B testing, additional revenue opportunities, in-depth reporting and analytical tools
Pricing: Custom
Best fit: Enterprise-level publication or membership business

Piano is an end-to-end subscription and analytics solution provider for large publishers. They have combined the world’s most advanced digital analytics with personalized, advertising and commerce solutions.They capture a lot of data, track user behavior, and offer up suggestions based on what they find. Their ideal use case is large, sophisticated marketing teams for enterprise-level publishers and membership businesses. 

Evolok paywall

6. Evolok
Paywall type: Dynamic
Software type: SaaS/Javascript
Print circulation: No
Features: Segmentation and personalization, multiple subscription products, ad-blocker detection
Pricing: Custom
Best fit: Larger publications and media groups

Evolok promotes their many data-points and dynamic targeting strategies. Evolok is a CRM, managing content access, user data, and payments all at once. The segmentation and consultancy targets publishers who want all their data and payments managed for them. Note subscriber and payment data is managed by their platform. Integrations with other platforms are limited.

Paywall Project

7. Paywall Project
Paywall type: Metered
Software type: WordPress CMS
Print circulation: Yes
Features: Turnkey subscription website for local news publishers
Pricing: Starts at $249/month
Best fit: Small local news publication that needs a fully managed website 

Publishers can focus on their content while Paywall Project manages all the complexities of website development, and digital subscriber management. This is a turn-key WordPress and subscription solution for local news publishers who don’t want to deal with the tech. May not be ideal for publishers with custom design and development needs.

Town News

8. TownNews
Paywall type: Metered
Software type: Proprietary CMS
Print circulation: Yes
Features: All-in-one CMS and paywall
Pricing: Custom
Best fit: News sites with print

TownNews is a content management system (CMS) and paywall that allows you to publish, manage and monetize your news site. It’s an all-in-one website and paywall solution for creating content and managing your website with their Blox CMS.

Admiral Paywall

9. Admiral
Paywall type: Metered
Software type: SaaS/Javascript
Print circulation: No
Features: Ad Blocker, Free registration, Subscription, Donation
Pricing: Starts at $120/mo with revenue share
Best fit: Publishers looking for a quick and simple paywall

Admiral offers a one-tag installation for a quick paywall setup, as well as multi-site subscriptions. Their ad blocker detector ensures that your site’s content is displayed without interruption. Limited configuring options.

Membergate Paywall

10. MemberGate
Paywall type: Metered
Software type: Proprietary CMS
Print circulation: No
Features: Fully hosted website and paywall
Pricing: Starts at $97/month
Best fit: Publications with minimal needs

MemberGate is a content publishing platform that can be used to monetize content through paywalls and subscription services. Content creators can build blogs, forums, and image galleries on the platform, and then use inbuilt tools to drive readers to their site. MemberGate also hosts and manages the website for publishers.

Conclusion

Paywalls come in many shapes and sizes, so it’s important to start by determining what you need. Do you need a system that can handle all of your content? Or do you just need a paywall? Once that decision has been made, the next step is to determine how much customization you need for your content and audience as well as monetization options. Contact Pete today if you want to discuss your approach—he’s always happy to see if he can help!

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