Rethinking the paywall in digital publishing

Rethinking the paywall in digital publishing

Raise your hand, if you’ve ever used the free trial subscription and actually put a reminder in your calendar to cancel the subscription right before the deadline. This reader behaviour is more common than you would think and the readers are mostly less than reluctant to pay for general media content (but they’re more willing to pay for in-depth journalism, analysis, etc.). It’s no secret that the publishing industry is struggling with monetizing their business model. Digital media has largely relied on paid ads as a monetization strategy, but this tactic is also becoming increasingly harder to balance.

On one hand people are learning to ignore ads so well there’s even a name for it - ad blindness. On the other hand the users are getting more and more annoyed by the ads and using ad blockers is becoming a standard part of good digital hygiene. Already around one third of all Internet users block ads in 2018. Even though ad blocking has been mostly a desktop issue which requires a lot more work on smartphones, there is a clear rising trend of ad blocking on mobile sessions as well. Ad blockers might soon be already built in the browsers - for example the newest Google Chrome will block “abusive” ads on its own. On top of it all the advertising dollars are increasingly spent on the new (social) media instead of the old one.

Social media is the go-to place for finding news for the younger generation. But not all is lost for the traditional media. Flexibility seems to be the magical ingredient for the rising market force of the millennial generation. Millennials consume news and information in strikingly different ways than previous generations, and their paths to discovery are more nuanced and varied than some may have imagined. On the positive note the millennial generation is willing and often actually pays for digital content.

The need for a better monetization strategy in the publishing business is evident even without the decline of paid ads or reluctance to buy full subscriptions. Even though there probably isn’t a magical one-size-fits-all solution to this equation, at least part of the answer might be micropayments. Basically it’s a compromise between being hit in the head with a strict paywall and subscribing full-time to one publication. Instead the reader can make small payments for additional articles and be eased into payments more gradually.

mobile payments

This pay-as-you-go model gives more flexibility to the reader, but also helps sort out customers, who are willing to pay for the content at all - even if just a little at first. Depending on the perceived value for the reader and the number of articles they are reading, it’s possible to convert them into subscribers over time. They can test the product without the scary long-time commitment.

As in many other sectors nowadays, everything mobile is also the new way in media. Growing mobile devices usage has become the driver of media consumption, with an average person spending 479 minutes daily consuming media and a quarter of all global media being consumed on mobile. It is predicted, that by 2020 28% of global media consumption will be mobile. At the same time the traditional ways of consuming media (radio, TV, printed press) are slowly (but surely?) lagging behind.

Mobile payments are a natural choice for mobile-consumed content as the payment device is already in the customer’s hand. At the same time the reader’s mobile identity has been established previously by their operator. This makes the signing up process effortless for the reader matching the value of micropayments. You wouldn’t bother looking up your credit card information for a transaction smaller than a dollar - in many cases you probably wouldn’t even dare to share that information left and right. All in all micropayments are worth considering, as it might just be the missing piece of your monetizing puzzle.