The 10 Best Paywall Providers For Your Content Business in 2024

Why use Paywall software?

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

According to digital media industry news source Digiday, ad sales fell by 3.7% to $107.7 million in Q4 2023, down from $111.9 million in Q4 2022. Most digital publishers find that their ad revenues are trending downward and are looking to 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 and building digital products 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 you?

Most paywall and membership software will offer a way to restrict and charge for access to your article content. But there are a number of paywall types with different approaches.

Each publisher has a unique audience, content, and thus paywall needs. This makes deciding on a paywall crucial and confusing. We have taken the time to review the top paywall contenders that are a best fit for content creators.

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? Let’s break down paywall offerings into three main areas that are important to know about when making a decision.

1. How paywall types 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 registering or paying for access.

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 indexing (so your articles rank in search) and social media sharing, which helps drive new visitor traffic to your website. 

A hard paywall (like the Wall Street Journal’s) 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 if they lock out search and social sharing traffic.

Locked articles can be indexed by Google but generally aren’t shared via social media (there are bypass options but they introduce sharing friction) so many publishers, if they are building their brand, are forced to produce a good deal of free content to build their audiences.

The final paywall type is the 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 website behavior.

Let’s talk paid subscriptions

Peter Ericson

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

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2. How does paywall software actually integrate with 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 that is part of a content management system (CMS).

A CMS can either be open source to the software developer (WordPress, Drupal, etc.,) or proprietary for the publisher (Blox, etc.,). This is a bigger, more comprehensive decision than just choosing a paywall: it will determine the online presence and interface of your entire publication.

A CMS with advertising, paywall, and editorial features may be a good fit for publishers looking for a one-shop stop for their website content, subscription, and ad platform.

The downside of using a proprietary CMS solution is they are typically rigid in their featureset which may not match your publishing needs. Content migration into a new CMS poses challenges and may be more difficult to move off the platform down the road.

SaaS/JavaScript embed

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. SaaS based solutions also suffer from reader login complexities. Since the login system must be verified from a 3rd party external database it generally causes a higher level of reader login issues and time spent on handling these issues with subscribers. On the flip side, some enterprise level SaaS options are more integrated with your CMS which offers more customization options but ups the  complexity and cost of the integration.

Bottom line: Managing subscriber access to your article content can be challenging if subscriber data is stored on an external system. SaaS based subscription solutions typically have fairly basic features.

Native Paywall

The final type is a native paywall, one which is built specifically for a CMS such as WordPress.

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.

Another plus is native software can handle different server caching configurations with your hosting company.

A possible downside is that setting up native software can be more complex and may require more developer knowledge.

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 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 free and subscriber only email campaigns or your e-commerce shop? Does it offer integrations with iOS or Android apps? SMS and WhatsApp messaging?

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 newsletters, hiding ads, and blocking incognito browsing. Do you need to offer multiple website access with one subscription?

Can you accept donations or create other new digital 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?

Payment intents

Who is triggering the recurring subscription payments? This is an overlooked and critical aspect to know about a payment platform. Does the paywall software run the recurring charge (Ex: Woo Subscriptions, Piano) or does the payment gateway run the subscription charges (Stripe, Authorize.net, PayPal)?

You need the payment gateways (Ideally Stripe) to run the payment intents. As an example Stripe does the best job in the industry at re-charging failed payments according to their AI. Also there is a robust third party marketplace for churn mitigation (and other) solutions that plug straight into Stripe subscriptions. Additionally when Stripe is actually running the subscriptions, it makes migrating to a new subscription system much easier since you can simply tie the Stripe subscription to the paywall software subscriber.

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.

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 $199/mo
  • Best fit: 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

Let’s talk paywalls

Peter Ericson

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

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

Zuora and Zephr have now merged. Their 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.

3. Pelcro

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.

4. Pigeon Paywall

Pidgeon 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. 

5. Piano

Piano subscriptions
  • 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 advanced digital analytics with personalized, advertising and commerce solutions. They capture 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. 

6. Evolok

Evolok paywall
  • 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.

7. Paywall Project

Paywall Project
  • Paywall type: Metered
  • Software type: WordPress CMS
  • Print circulation: Yes
  • Features: Turnkey subscription website for local news publishers
  • Pricing: Starts at $299/month
  • Best fit: Local news publishers that need 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.

8. Blox/Town News

  • 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

Blox (formerly 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.

As a proprietary system, customizations may be limited.

9. Admiral

Admiral Paywall
  • 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.

10. MemberGate

Membergate Paywall
  • 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 built-in tools to drive readers to their site.

MemberGate is proprietary and 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, subscriptions and advertising? Do you need a simple paywall? Do you need specific features? Do you have a technical team to help you configure and manage your platform?

Once those questions have been answered, 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!

Learn how Leaky Paywall can help grow your subscription revenue