Paywalls, Paymeters and the Innovation of Subscriptions

By: Karina Fabian, Marketing Communications Specialist

Paywalls have come a long way from the “hard paywall,” where all content was blocked until you paid for a subscription or the privilege of reading the article you’d chosen.

“We sell you a paid content solution, but how you set it up is your choice,” said Mike Pirello, whose company, Syncronex, developed NEWSCYCLE Solution’s Digital Paymeter. “Paymeter” comes from the term used for paywalls that allow a certain number of free articles before asking readers to pay. Paymeters were the first paradigm shift from the hard paywall, but Digital Paymeter itself does a lot more.

The paymeter option is still among the most popular used. Pirello says it’s a great place to start for companies just starting out because it allows a publisher to discover the loyal readers who are willing to pay for a subscription if asked. He also noted that in his experience, the potential for decreasing page views (and thus decreasing potential advertising revenue) has not been the problem that most online news sites fear.

There are other ways to handle page-view paywalls, as well.

“One of the things we’re getting more interest in is registration paywalls,” Pirello said. This is sometimes used as a first step in the lead funnel to a subscription for a payment. A reader gets a certain number of articles, then an overlay covers the next article and offers the reader a set number of additional free articles if the reader registers. When those reads are done, a second overlay informs the reader their additional free reads are complete and offers a paying subscription. “It gets the readers further into the payment funnel; plus, the account is already set up, so it’s easier for them to pick a plan and put in a credit card number,” Pirello said.

Another popular approach is the premium/freemium model, where certain articles are available only behind the paywall – readers pay for the premium content. About 45 percent of online news media use this model, according to a study by Grzegorz Piechota of INMA.

There are other more exacting styles for paywalls – such as those based on topic. “Granularity in offers is a growing trend. Sliced-and-diced content can give readers what they want, and then you can price accordingly,” Pirello said.

“I think paywall software will continue to get smarter, so that it can treat people differently based on their behavior. For example, a sports enthusiast can get offered a subscription that’s sports-themed, or perhaps sports-only. Or the subscription invitation messaging may differ depending on the reader.” The idea is to provide different experiences for different behaviors.

Pirello warns that this level of paywall is a labor-intensive venture. “You have these big case studies of how publishers are doing behavioral studies of their readers and adjusting accordingly, but you need to realize that these publishers have a team that concentrates only on paywall.”

Nonetheless, smaller companies can still do a lot with smart paywalls.

However you incorporate a paywall, Pirello suggests taking a holistic approach, letting it influence every site, from print to mobile to e-editions, in a complete ecosystem. It’s also helpful to have the paywall

fully integrated to your audience software, which, he said, is one thing he appreciates about working with Newscycle.

Finally, if you are not having success with your paywall, talk to your vendor to find a strategy that works. It’s no longer a matter of whether or not to have a paywall, but how to make that paywall smarter and profitable for you.