In News Publishing, Your Subscription Is Either #1 Or Irrelevant

In News Publishing, Your Subscription Is Either #1 Or Irrelevant

With news traffic down in the post-Trump era by anywhere from 20-50%, isn't it time for publishers to think more creatively about their monetization strategies vs. continuing to blindly follow the NYT, even though they are not the same publication?

The battle for the subscriber continues to intensify as more publications add paywalls. With only 20% of Americans subscribing to news and 63% of them only subscribing to one publication (usually one of the top 3: NYT/WaPo/WSJ), the battle for the 2nd subscription is becoming a bloodbath. The vast majority of the publishers fight for the 8% of Americans who subscribe to more than one publication.  What about the rest?

The US news subscription market

As with most technology disruptions, the winners take the vast majority of the users, revenue, engineers, data, etc. and create a flywheel effect where they continue to get stronger, faster than the rest of the industry. If you are not one of the top 3 publications who enjoy the current status quo - odds are you are falling behind, not catching up. As in most tech-enabled businesses, the only way to compete with a stronger player is to out-innovate them, not compete head-on. News Publishing is no different, yet most publishers have adopted the same business model (subscription paywall) where, if you are not the #1 subscription, you are fighting for scraps, and your brand is becoming irrelevant.

Ask any consumer and they will say "I hit paywalls all the time, I am not going to subscribe to all of them, I am willing to pay something if there was no friction but not subscribe"

The fascinating thing is the lack of consumer focus. As any consumer-tech company will tell you, you must be obsessive about your users, delighting them, understanding them, building unique solutions to their problems, and through that, a powerful brand and great business. The idea that all users will subscribe to all content sources is not rational nor not backed by data. This means that most publishers are routinely pushing their potential users to buy a product they don't want or need. Consumers feel the daily pain but that pain is being ignored by the brands serving them.

So what should the non #1 subscription publications do?

  1. Figure out a consumer-friendly monetization strategy. At Paygo, we believe strongly that this is a combination of subscription (for the most engaged) and pay-per-read Micropayments for the other 98%.
  2. Remove the friction. By adopting the Paygo solution, users can access your content with one click and quickly get to the content they want.
  3. Be innovative and first. The first publisher brand to listen to its users will benefit enormously from consumer support and appreciation.
  4. Experiment. Tipping, limited pay-per-read, daily passes, unique advertising. Each solution must be different for each publisher.
  5. Treat different cohorts differently:
  6. Social - users coming off a link on social do not have a brand relationship with you (vs. those that came to your homepage). They do not convert well since the brand affiliation is not there. Let them buy access to the article on a pay-to-read model, leading to affinity and subscriptions.
  7. International - these users convert poorly and have low value to advertisers. There is no need to give them three free articles but rather a paywall with an option to subscribe or pay-per-read.
  8. Out of DMA - for local news, users outside your core DMA are much more casual and should be treated differently than your core within-DMA readers. Three free articles may be enough for the outsiders needs, at least monetize it. Tailor your paywall and its options differently to them.

At Paygo, we believe that every Paywall should have a pay-per-read option to capture 100% of the demand, not just the subscription demand.

How future paywalls should look to capture 100% of the demand

Learn more at or read our Paygo Blog. See a live Subscription + Pay-per-read Paywall here or a Tipping option here.

In other news - we have integrated our service with the Ghost platform, allowing us to sunset our direct to consumer offer and focus on our sdk. We now have experience integrating with several different platforms and can confidently say that our integration is very easy and straightforward to add to an existing paywall.