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Indian Express will have paid ad-free plans soon: Digital CEO

Exclusive: The Indian Express will soon have paid ad-free plans for readers on the website, the CEO of the Express Group’s Digital efforts Sandeep Amar said. There will be monthly and yearly plans for both Indian and international readers, Amar told MediaNama. However, he added that access to content will not be restricted behind a paywall.

Amar also said that these plans will not auto-renew payments for users in India, citing RBI guidelines that make doing that complicated.

This will make Indian Express the first English-language newspaper to have ad-free digital subscription plans in India. Other newspapers, like The Hindu, either have paid e-paper plans, or syndicate their e-paper editions to apps like Readwhere, Magzter, and JioNewspaper, which serve them for free or for a price. But the web editions of these newspapers, which are probably by far their largest sources of digital revenue, have only used advertisements (and non-ad-free paywalls) to monetize so far. That may soon change.

Magazines and online-only news organizations have experimented significantly more with online payments — Outlook magazine briefly had ‘micropayment’ options where users could pay Re 1 to view a single article ad-free.

Shashi adds: Last year, during a panel discussion, executive director Anant Goenka had mentioned that paywalls would not work in the Indian context.

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“Four years back, I had said that Indian Express website would be the first Indian news website which would go behind a paywall. I take all of that back. There is no way that would work in the Indian context. If there is one group of people who would pay for the news online, it would be the NRIs,” Goenka said.

Lack of subscription as an option

Ad-free subscriptions are a fairly intuitive way to monetize, considering the incredibly low yields per user online advertising fetches. This is taking into account the fairly unsubtle extent, to put it lightly, of advertising on certain newspapers’ websites:

Even so, most Indian publications, both print and digital, have opted to rely exclusively on advertising to monetize online — Business Standard is one of the extremely few print publications to have a paywall on its website, and even in their case, the digital subscription is not free of ads. Very few, if any, print dailies have a combination of ad-supported and ad-free plans for their web editions, like the model Express says it will soon have. Digital subscription plans are slowly coming into existence, such as The Ken, a business and tech site that publishes one long story a day.

Last year, most major newspaper groups in India simultaneously began locking out users who used ad blockers. While most sites just redirected users to a landing page that told them to turn their ad-blocker off, some were significantly more crafty. A Hindi daily, for instance, used some HTML5 magic to mirror its webpages, blur its contents, and display a popup as the entire page literally fell down from the browser’s window, asking users to turn their ad-blocker off.

(Interestingly, some Hindi dailies who were originally reported to be part of this ‘coalition’ of anti-ad-blockers — Amar Ujala, Dainik Bhaskar, and Hindustan Live — are seemingly no longer locking out users using ad-blockers. Indian Express and Hindustan Times seem to have stopped doing so too.)

*Corrigendum: An earlier version of this article had mistakenly mentioned that content on Indian Express’ web edition will be restricted behind a paywall. That is not the case. A paid ad-free version will be offered, but there will not be any kind of restriction on content for readers. We regret this mistake.

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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