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Can advertising and paywalls coexist?

You’re either for ads, or you’re against them. You either think ads are the way to monetize your content, or you think paywalls are the answer.

It’s one or the other. Never both. Why is that?

The more I dig into the advertising debate, the more I find myself advocating for a mixed monetization approach that includes clean advertising, paid subscriptions, affiliate-based programs, and anything else that puts money back into the publishing pot at the end of the rainbow.

Monetizing a publication is about maximizing the earning potential of its individual parts, not just one thing over another.

It’s an unpopular position to take at the moment, but advertising and paywalls can live in tandem. It’s not a winner-take-all system.

Here are a few headlines and quotes that stood out to me recently:

  1. “If Ads Don’t Work, Can Publishers Strike Subscription Gold?" - Wired headline
  2. “If you take out all of the advertising and just make reader-generated revenue, you’d have to get to Netflix numbers of subscribers before you start making any real money.” - Simon Owens, quoted in a WSJ article about Medium’s new system
  3. “What's weird is that the NYT cares more for people who will never buy a subscription than people who might.” - @atrios

Platforms pushing subscriptions as a cure-all should be met with suspicion from us and the media.

Don't get me wrong: paywalls are part of the solution. But, monetization works best if publishers focus holistically on growing revenue. This means advertising has its role, too.

Find the best partners. Pick companies who share your vision. Work with people who don’t try and lock you into one model of monetization.

You'll be all the better for it.

Written By Joshua Schnell

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