Esquire Experiments With Online Paywall

August feature now available as stand-alone for $1.99

For the first time, Esquire is dipping its toe into the realm of paid Web content. This morning, the Hearst Magazines title published “The Prophet,” a feature from its August issue, online—and rather than offering the entire article for free or posting a teaser to get readers to buy the magazine itself, Esquire is asking readers to pay $1.99 for the privilege of reading the article online.

The nearly 10,000-word article, by contributing editor Luke Dittrich, is an exposé of Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon who spent a week in a coma, saw God (according to his tale), and wrote the book Proof of Heaven about the experience. Esquire had been looking for a big story to build a paywall experiment around, and news value of The Prophet—Alexander’s book is a New York Times best-seller and has been featured by outlets like Fox & Friends, Newsweek and Dr. Oz—made it a perfect candidate, said editor in chief David Granger.

“We spend a huge amount of time and effort and money on chasing a story like this," he said. "We wanted to see if we could get people to pay for it. They pay for it in the magazine and the iPad app, so we thought we’d give it a shot.” (Esquire readers can also buy e-books of stories from the magazine’s archives, published in partnership with Byliner.)

Currently, the story is getting a 3 to 4 percent purchase rate on, which Granger seemed pleased with. So far, he hasn’t heard any major reader complaints about the paywall, which is being handled on the back end by TinyPass.

Before committing to further paywall plans, Granger wants to wait and see how this initial experiment is received. “If [selling traffic to advertisers] is way more profitable than selling journalism to readers, that’s the decision we’ll have to make when we start getting the results in,” he said. Still, he added, “Whether it’s with Byliner or on our own, I would love to eventually be doing original online pieces that aren’t even published in the magazine.”

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