Süddeutsche Zeitung: selling the agile paywall with the right content

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Another set of liveblogged notes from Digital Media Europe 2017. Typos, inaccuracy and howling crimes against grammar and syntax probable.

Stefan Plöchinger, Digital Editor, Süddeutsche Zeitung and Editor in-Chief, SZ.de

Stefan Plöchinger

Who are Süddeutsche Zeitung? They are the paper that got the Panama Papers.

Their subscription model has now surpassed the ad model – he’s happy, because he doesn’t think that the ad model is sustainable.

Paid content is a politicised discussion in Germany. However, their adoption of a paywall is not a political statement – it’s just what they need to do. They have a great growth curve – which he shared with us (including figures), but which he didn’t want shared.

Their paid content model is an agile paywall for SZ Plus. Basic news is free. It’s a commodity. You get 10 bylined articles from staff per week for free. Beyond that, there’s a premium paywall – subscriber-only content – and once you’re subscriber you get the epaper edition, too. It’s complicated, but they don’t need to explain it to the readers – because it just works.

All in subscription for €34.99.

The journey to a successful subs model. @ploechinger of Süddeutsche Zeitung explains. Delighted that they work with Content Insights #DME17 pic.twitter.com/cBDC02OUjd

— Content Insights (@InsightsPeople) April 26, 2017

Content strategy in the floorplan

Honest comment by @ploechinger on layered newsroom at @SZ "It's crap, we hate it" #DME17 pic.twitter.com/fGpQA60tFp

— Carl-Gustav Lindén (@Gusse) April 26, 2017

They’re in a tower block with (relatively) small floors, so they have to be really creative with setting.

For example, the social media, homepage and managing editors sit adjacent to each other. They have a Textmarketing expert – but what does she do? She identifies the probably bestsellers in the articles they publish – and then she promotes them big time, on every channel that is possible and reasonable.

An agile editorial model:

an agile editorial model

They’re constantly surprised by what stories create subscriptions – this model allows them to continue doing that. They’ve torn down the wall between editorial and publishing (but not ads), to make sure everyone is working together to generate subscriptions.

They drive conversions with premium, evergreen content, with social sharing and with rebundling content around key dates or events.


If SZ notices an evergreen premium story that has staying power it will repromote to sell subs. Here stories on death, TV show #DME17 pic.twitter.com/u1ZFTYI780

— Joseph Lichterman (@ylichterman) April 26, 2017


SZ will also use Facebook to target premium stories to interested users. Like Bon Jovi? SZ will target its interview with him to you #DME17 pic.twitter.com/tCKnhoLI22

— Joseph Lichterman (@ylichterman) April 26, 2017


Rebundling old articles helps to offer added value on subscriptions says @ploechinger. Reminds me of cover supps back in the day #DME17 pic.twitter.com/WQtUSQTR7Q

— Jon Wilks (@jonniewilks) April 26, 2017

business modelsdigital strategymonetisationpaywallspublishing strategySüddeutsche Zeitung

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.