Say there is a content site that has professional resources for a specific profession. It works on a subscription model, where paid members can freely use/download each resource.

I'm wondering, from the point of view of unregistered users, what would be best :

  1. a few free sample resources and the rest are hidden.
  2. able to search/filter all resources, but cannot see beyond brief description (w still some free ones).
  3. some other option.

The first option could work better because it will be simpler: make a solid case without making the user mess around and feel irritated by constantly being told 'sorry you can't see this' which could have a cumulative negative effect.

But the second option gives the user a better idea of what exactly is on the site and how it works, possibly allowing a more confident, informed decision on whether to sign up.

There may be other ways of handling this or other issues I haven't thought of.

  • 2
    The best user experience is not have a paywall in the first place :) Seriously though, the answer will depend on how unregistered users find your site. Are they coming via searches, will they be redirected via specific links sent by registered users or will they just find the site and explore?
    – ChrisF
    Commented Nov 9, 2012 at 15:03
  • 3
    I think a lot of this will be down to a business decision rather than a user experience question. As a user you'd want as much content for free as you can possibly get, any less and it becomes annoying very quickly. How much content is your company prepared to 'give away'? What is their reason for having a paywall in the first place?
    – JonW
    Commented Nov 9, 2012 at 15:25
  • 4
    I think it's very easy for a UX person to write off paywalls (I know, because I've done it personally from inside the newspaper industry), but I think once that decision is made, it's our job to make sure the user isn't frustrated trying to sign up and make sure we align the business goals with user expectations. Paid content is more and more prevalent, so it's important to not make it a frustration for a user to give you money. Also, see my answer below. Commented Nov 9, 2012 at 16:19

1 Answer 1


When I worked in newspapers, this came up quite a bit. A good example, I think, of how to do this for a content-heavy site is the Dallas Morning news. They give away a decent chunk of their news, but denote paid (or premium or however you label it) stories with a small icon, giving clear information that if you're not a subscriber, this isn't a story for you.

On those paid stories, you get a couple paragraph sample and a form to fill out to start the process to become a subscriber.

I prefer this method to the javascript lightboxes you see on most news sites, as there's no workaround (good for business case) and it allows a sample and gives the user a clear goal on the page: "Want more, sign up right here"

Free content is great UX, but not a great business case for old school media, so the goal is to figure out the least annoying way of doing it.

My thoughts:

  1. Clearly designate paid content (iconography that's consistent is a nice way to do it)
  2. When presented with a paywall, ALWAYS give a sample of the content, so the user knows what they're getting, and are enticed to get it.
  3. Provide an easy method to become a member (Simplest form you can make with as few barriers to entry you can)
  4. Make sure to get the user back to the content they want after they sign up. This can be a high-level annoyance and could potentially damage a user's perception of your company and keep them from being a recurring member.

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