In mid-March, Wired joined fellow Condé Nast titles The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, as well as numerous other newspapers and magazines, in opening up free access to its coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, moving that content outside of the metered paywall that otherwise limits non-subscribers to four free articles each month.
A few weeks later, the shift is predictably driving significant increases in digital traffic (unique visitors to Wired.com were up 73% in March, compared to an average month, Condé Nast says, citing data from Google Analytics and Parse.ly).
Less predictably, Wired says it’s seeing a boost to its subscription business, as well.
“We’ve seen more than a significant uptick in the total number of subscriptions we’re generating right now,” Wired site director Scott Rosenfield tells Folio:. “Granted, traffic is up significantly as well, but we’re well ahead of the goal we had set. It’s a significant increase in subscriber growth from before the pandemic.”
Condé Nast declined to share specifics on the number of new subscriptions, but a spokeswoman noted that contributor Steven Levy’s March 19 interview with epidemiologist Larry Brilliant—the second most-read story in Wired‘s online history—also drove the most new subscriptions of any individual article since the brand first implemented its paywall in February 2018, despite being freely accessible to subscribers and non-subscribers alike.
Altogether, unique visitors to Wired.com have doubled the site’s year-to-date average as of March 31, with its COVID-19 coverage driving 66% of visitors in March despite comprising only about half of all stories published on the site.
In addition to the massive traffic increase, Rosenfield says the subscriber growth is the result of a collaborative effort across Wired‘s editorial, audience, product and consumer marketing teams, citing in particular the launch of a free daily “Coronavirus Update” email newsletter and careful attention to the language used in marketing copy around the free stories on its site.
“We’re getting a lot of new people onto our newsletter list, which is the best way for us to get subscribers in the long run,” he says. “We also have some units on the stories themselves that don’t force people to subscribe, but are telling readers, ‘Hey, this story is free, but it costs money to produce and your support is what makes it possible.’ We don’t want to be in the reader’s face, but we want to make it clear that this is something that we would ordinarily charge for.”
Wired is offering discounted subscriptions, including one year of print and digital access for $5, which Rosenfield says is in line with the brand’s established practice of experimenting with and testing various offers and not a new strategy as a result of the pandemic. A typical print and digital subscription has an introductory rate of $10 for the first year, which renews at $49.99 per year after that.
“I’m not sure that it’s fair to extrapolate this to any other circumstances,” Rosenfield adds. “I don’t presume to understand what’s happening elsewhere, but what I can say at Wired is that we’ve seen it to be both the right thing to do and a really good business decision.”