Business Insider Testing a Reader Paywall, and an Ad-Blocking Response

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Henry Blodget.
Henry Blodget. Credit: Business Insider

Business Insider, according to co-founder and CEO Henry Blodget, has long harbored ambitions to create a dual-revenue business model, buoyed by both advertising and subscriptions.

The company plans to test those ambitions, starting this week, with a "small," randomly selected group of readers, who will be prompted to subscribe to Business Insider. As is standard with so-called metered paywalls, the readers selected for this test will get an allotment of free articles. Multiple meter levels will be tried, starting at 10 free stories. For those impacted, the meter will re-start every 30 days.

These selected users will see the subscription message three times, at the beginning of the test, at the mid-point of their free story allotment, and with one story remaining.

Business Insider, which was sold last year to European publisher Axel Springer, will charge $1 for the first month of a subscription, and $9.95 for the successive months. It's probably not a coincidence that the Financial Times, which Mr. Blodget mentioned as an inspiration and a competitor, also charges $1 for the first four weeks of a subscription, an approach the company introduced in early 2015.

At the same time, Business Insider is getting tough with ad-blockers. Also starting this week, readers that have installed and enabled an ad blocker will be told to either whitelist Business Insider's website or pay up for a subscription, the same one offered to the small group of paywall-testers. (The New York Times is experimenting with a similar, whitelist-or-pay approach, which CEO Mark Thompson said in June is seeing results.)

The subscription offering will be "ad light," which means paying customers will see branded content but not display advertisements, which are considered to be more distracting. Mr. Blodget said Business Insider has been materially hurt by ad-blocking, but that the impact has been small, "not huge," relative to the industry average.

The company already has a "very expensive" market research service, BI Intelligence, which Mr. Blodget said has been very successful. (The service starts at $495 annually for newsletters, and all-access memberships begin at $2,495.)

"We've demonstrated that the subscription model works, within the business category," he said. "This is another test of a larger potential subscription business."

BI Intelligence is targeted at professionals, but Mr. Blodget said the new subscription offering will be aimed at more casual readers. Overall, he said, "We're very optimistic about subscriptions."

The test will last for three months, though the company couldn't say how a decision on whether to implement a permanent paywall and ad-blocker-blocker will be made. A spokesman said that metrics will obviously be considered in making that decision.

Asked whether Business Insider could lose readers, both those unwilling to whitelist the site and those unwilling to pay up for content, Mr. Blodget said the impact would probably be modest.

And what can more consumer revenue do for Business Insider? "Ultimately, it will allow us to do different things with journalism than we are doing now," Mr. Blodget said. "It should continue to allow us to increase the editorial budget, which would be great."

Mr. Blodget said subscriptions are already growing as a percentage of the company's revenue. While Business Insider is privately held, Axel Springer's 2015 annual report indicated that the company generated consolidated revenue of about $43 million last year.

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