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Thinking about a paywall? Read this first

Considering a premium, freemium, membership, donation, metered or hard paywall model for your online content? FIPP, an international member organisation for content producers, has released a must-read report,  Paywalls: How to start your subscription strategy.

The report has been collated in collaboration with London-based paywall SaaS company Blaize, and outlines the importance of establishing a robust reader relationship strategy to convert and retain existing readers to a paid content model, before providing publisher paywall success stories. 

The report opens: “The magazine media industry is on the brink of a new chapter in its history, morphing from transactional, print advertising to being hyper-focused on building lasting and profitable relationships with readers.” 

The reader relationship strategy is about creating engagement, customer satisfaction and lifetime value via targeted content, products, advertising and services for individual customers, the report explains. 

How is this done? Using data wisely, publishing the right content, and great customer service.  

The right data and tools 

The collection of user data through processes such as registration, ecommerce, contests, customer service data, and by using tracking cookies on websites should be leveraged to harness reader engagement and satisfaction. 

“The collection of audience data informs data analysis, followed by targeting these anonymised users with relevant content, advertising, products and services. The real-time data collection, analysis and targeting is the glue that keeps customers engaged with relevant information.” 

Paywalls: How to start your subscription strategy

The report suggests using data and tools to identify the most engaged readers. Content, advertising, products and services can then be targeted to them based on what has been learned through the relationship data. This data can also be used to tailor offers to individuals based on price elasticity models.

“Advanced analytics is now key to acquisition, activation and retention,” the report quotes Grzegorz “Greg” Piechota, a media researcher at Harvard University and University of Oxford. “The future of paywalls will be automated based on data-driven insights.”

Because of this, it is important to ensure the right technology is being used. “Approaching the technology decision should start with the end in mind,” Mather Economics Senior Product Development Director Arvid Tchizhel contributes.

“Assessing how the content management system, customer relationship management system, subscription/paywall system, user authentication, checkout/payment processing, and analytics tools will execute on the strategy (rather than fitting the strategy to the constraints of the toolkit) is critical before proceeding with a subscription product.”

Content that readers will pay for 

Tchizhel says that the most successful publishers that have implemented a paywall have provided a compelling reason to pay for access to their websites by thinking carefully about the value of content. 

“Publishing additional unique and relevant content will provide a clear value for why users should return to read compelling articles. Some publishers have also introduced membership models, which provide other benefits besides content such as access to events, exclusive promotions, and other features built to engage users into a community,” he says. 

Other techniques for publishing value-add content are listed as: 

  • Create a catalogue of opinion pieces from thought leaders. 
  • Build a daily model of content generation that is worthy of subscription. 
  • Build a subscriber-paid video and audio stockpile to supplement text-based articles.

“There’s an opportunity to reimagine the job of the magazine company,” says Piechota. “The business purpose of magazines is to inspire (readers) to do something about their life. There is much more money in inspiring transactions than just inspiring with editorial content.”

Great customer service begins with teamwork 

In order to deliver a successful reader-centric approach, the report says that all teams within the company must be aligned around a common set of goals – from editorial to marketing, and technology and finance to sales. 

“Discover deeper customer needs through your multiple listening posts on your websites, through customer service, at in-person events and create a 360-degree view of your customer over time.” 

Paywalls: How to start your subscription strategy

Tchizhel explains that the three primary stages of a subscribers’ lifecycle are: engagement, acquisition and retention. 

“Understanding the position of each user on this path and what behaviours lead someone to move along the path will impact the types of tactics and tools you will use. Pairing this type of user segmentation with customer lifetime value scoring is a best practice to identify how to impact each user’s lifetime value and move them along their customer lifecycle,” he says. 

Testing and improving the customer experience process, including online and elsewhere, is also important to ensure that readers are retained overtime. 

To read the report in full, visit FIPP’s website

Written by Lyndsie Clark

Niche Publishing Network Founder and Editor Lyndsie Clark has over 10 years of niche publishing experience, working in a variety of roles spanning B2B editorial, sales, operations, events, BD, and management.

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