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Dynamic paywall technology supports targeted reader revenue strategies

Dynamic paywall
Via Unsplash

Dynamic paywall technology, increasingly available as a SaaS solution, is letting publishers ditch the blunt instrument of metered access. Rather than cut non-subscribers off once they reach broadly assigned limits, publishers can look to audience segmentation and machine learning to personalise access and target subscription conversion messaging.

Context
  • Dynamic paywalls use machine learning and artificial intelligence to restrict or allow access to content according to specific audience profiles and behaviours, not general rules. They automatically move article limits up or down and even deliver personalised subscription marketing messages based on readers’ consumption habits.
  • Once the exclusive domain of big publishers with big software development teams, growth in the availability of SaaS subscription and paywall management solutions has made dynamic paywall technology much more widely available. The Fix reported recently on a number of suppliers, concluding that the space is ‘getting more crowded’.
  • The reader revenue solutions on offer cover website and newsletter paywalls and registration and cookie walls. French supplier Poool allows publishers to AB test different compensation offerings across digital platforms and segment audiences. The space also includes anti-paywall suppliers like LaterPay, offering publishers the facility to accept one-off contributions from non-subscribers.
Adding value

Where metered paywalls value every piece of content more or less the same, dynamic paywall technology allows publishers to match content access to reader interests. The paywall might go up if the reader is identified as a heavy consumer of content with a propensity to pay, or kept down if the reader is a light user and continued engagement is more likely to lead to a subscription.

  • As digital advertising has become just one facet of their revenue mix, publishers are less dependent on bringing readers to their websites to generate page views. Instead, they are redirecting their energies to engaging the readers they already have.
  • Andrew Morris, Director of Client Relations for paywall vendor Pelcro, told the Fix:

Instead of thinking, ‘what is going to make the advertiser happy?’, publishers are spending a lot of time thinking about ‘what’s going to make our readers happy?

  • Author of FIPP’s annual Innovation in Media report, John Wilpers, called dynamic paywalls the “hottest new tool” to help publishers secure “significant, sustainable reader revenue.” He wrote in the report:

It’s amazing to think that in an era of increasing personalization we ever thought a one-size-fits-all paywall would work.

Platform dependency?

Publishers operate on more third-party software platforms than ever before – from CMS, to email, to digital advertising and data. One concern expressed by the authors of the Fix article centres on the idea that publishers could become dependent on payment platforms the way some became dependent on social distribution platforms.

Chief marketing officer at Poool, Marion Wyss, acknowledged the concern and advised publishers to keep hold of their reader relationships:

There is a risk that relationships with readers will be handled by platforms instead of by the media itself. The main challenge for media now is to find a way to build relationships with their readers – direct relationships.

The trade off is to accept that vendor expertise is required for publishers to access sophisticated dynamic paywall technology. The objective should be to work with suppliers that view the relationship as a partnership, seeing their goals as being aligned with publisher goals.

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