Rolling Stone Chips Away at Paywall, a Little

Archived content will be freely available in new Artist Timelines

Until now, Rolling Stone has closely guarded most of its back-issue content behind a paywall that required either a subscription to the magazine or a separate "all-access" plan. But now, the magazine is pulling a few bricks out of the paywall with the introduction of Artist Timelines, which will let music fans read every article about a given artist ever published in Rolling Stone

The first Artist Timeline, for Bruce Springsteen, is live on the site now, and new time lines will roll out every two weeks. Next in line are Green Day, the Rolling Stones, Taylor Swift, Bob Dylan and Lady Gaga. Digital radio platform Rdio is sponsoring the feature for the next three months as part of a larger “Bands to Watch” program.

“We have a treasure trove of 40-plus years of great content, and even though we had it exposed in certain ways (such as all-access), it hasn’t had the prominence or takeup that it deserves,” said Wenner Media chief digital officer David Kang. “By pulling content from behind the paywall, we realized we could create an experience that would reach a broader audience but also make for a good business model.”

The time lines are meant to target casual fans (who can come for up-to-the-minute news) as well as die-hard ones looking for deep-dive content. Eventually, Kang wants to extend the time line feature to every artist featured in Rolling Stone, and if the initial launches go smoothly, new time lines will roll out more quickly. He also sees the time line format working well for other types of Rolling Stone content—like political or environmental coverage. “We’re hoping that it could become the flagship feature of the site,” said Kang.

So what does this mean for the current Rolling Stone paywall? Although the all-access approach won’t change immediately, Kang is looking at other ways of driving revenue outside the paywall. Those could include signing up additional time line sponsors (Kang said that he could see an artist’s tour sponsor underwriting the artist’s Rolling Stone time line), launching an Artist Timeline app (which the Wenner digital team has already begun exploring) or driving additional site traffic through search engines. “The whole idea of being able to develop a paid content model is something that all publishers are looking at carefully," Kang said.