Are Surveys the New Way Around Paywalls?

With frequent layoffs and decreasing subscription rates, many newspapers have implemented  paywalls on their sites. These paywalls only allow paid subscribers to read the articles. Some sites like the New York Time’s will allow perspective subscribers to read up to ten articles for free before restricting their access.  

Interestingly enough, it not just money that newspapers want. Your opinion is equally as valuable.

Instead of begging for more subscriptions, the Financial Times asks users seemingly random questions like “Which of the following men’s underwear brands are you aware of?” Once a reader answers the question, they are granted free access to one article.

Why does the Financial Times, a leading business news publication, care which men’s underwear brands it’s readers are aware of?

The FT uses data from the surveys to lure in more advertising revenue. In other words, instead of saying we have 11,388,235 digital subscribers (which according to data on their site is, in fact, the case), they could use the laws of statistics to estimate how many of their readers would be a target consumer of men’s underwear at a given price point.

Further research revealed that the data from the surveys, which is powered by Google, is owned by the company as well. In addition to the FT, news sites like USA Today, Gannett regional newspapers and Woman’s World all receive payment from Google for posting the surveys.

As explained on the bottom of the survey, “The website you’re visiting earns money from the surveys that appear. This service makes market research fast, accurate, and affordable, helps to fund great web content and enables you easily and quickly get access to it.”

In a post from 2015, Google explained that publishers earn $.05 every time a visitor answers a question. Google boasted that one of its publishing partners, Times Publishing Company, a newspaper publisher based in Erie, Pennsylvania, was able to earn an additional $200,000 in 2012 when they first offered the survey option.

When Google first launched the service in 2012, many news sites were just beginning to consider the option of implementing a paywall. “This is a new way to monetize digital content without a paywall,”  Google product manager Paul McDonald said at the time. This proved to be successful for Gannett, explains Kate Walters, senior director of consumer platform products at Gannett in a video posted on Google.


In 2013, Steve Cooper, the editor of Hitched, a UK-based wedding publication, wrote an article in Forbes explaining that he partnered with Google’s survey service in order to keep content free for users. “So far I have been very pleased with the support that Google has provided, from explaining the product to customizing the code and helping implement it on our site,” he said.

“As a publisher, I was a bit concerned about blowback from our readers, but I haven’t heard any—maybe that’s because not enough people have encountered a survey yet, or they don’t find it all that intrusive and appreciate a free, leaky paywall-esque system.”

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