Herald Sun’s bloated paywall

18 April 2016 #Thoughts

Despite residing in Queensland I’m regularly clicking links to visit the Herald Sun website, mostly for football news. The News Corp stable of Australian news websites have been putting selected content behind a paywall since 2013.

It’s not going well.

Every time I click a link only to find it locked off, I’m surprised by slow page load times. Especially on mobile. Alarming for a page that has no relevant content, other than a photo and a paragraph of text. This small chunk of content is a “teaser” to tempt visitors to subscribe.

Page speed was all the rage last year but News Corp seem slow to the party. This page below measures 1.63MB. The one image relevant to the news story is a whopping 76kb. With a page load time of almost 2 seconds on my 4G connection. Now imagine it on a slower connection. That’s enough time to give up and move to the next thing.

On mobile, there’s always something else to read or do if you’re impatient. Gratification must be instant.

Herald Sun Website

This image, headline and paragraph of text is the only relevant content on this page. So why does it take so long to load?

There’s no shortage of studies showing the damage slow load times can do to ecommerce and other online transactions. According to Kiss Metrics 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load.

Below the relevant content on this page are graphics and tables designed to sell you on a subscription. Given how long it takes to load the page, almost half all visitors are unlikely to scroll down and see it.


Amazon founder Jeff Bezos purchased the Washington Post in 2013, after receiving an email complaint about slow load times he demanded they be fixed. When told they could get article load times down to two seconds, he responded:

β€˜It needs to be milliseconds,’

To clarify, he’s talking about loading an entire article in milliseconds. Not just a teaser for a paywall. If anyone knows the craft of taking people’s money online, it’s Bezos (just don’t get him to design a phone). If content loads quickly you’re less likely to lose the visitor’s attention.

This focus on page speed, among other things, is working. Last year The Washington Post overtook The New York Times in digital visitors and is catching new-media juggernaut BuzzFeed.

I wonder what the conversion rate of News Corp subscribers would be if they left the subscription sales pitch to a different page and focused on loading their “teaser” content almost instantly.

There’s no quick fix for news websites to address revenue – even BuzzFeed is struggling – but there is some “low hanging fruit” to address.