Dynamic paygates; the answer is in the data
Ask any modern publisher about their most painful headache, and the answer is likely to involve this conundrum; making journalism financially sustainable.
Many are seeking answers to the dilemma, some think they already have them. Rob Risagno is CEO of The Sterling Woods Group, a consulting and analytics firm specialising in working with publishers to create membership programmes.
He believes marrying exceptional content with data, plus paywall tech, can help solve journalism’s crisis.
“An AI-driven, dynamic paywall analyzes a visitor’s prior behavior to determine when to put up a paywall, what to say on the paywall, and what product or price offer to make. It helps segment customers by their propensity to buy. Put up a paywall too soon, and risk losing that visitor forever. Put it up too late, and lose out on a monetization opportunity.”
This is technical ground we’ve trodden before in this series; useful nonetheless for the uninitiated. But Rob’s true pearls of wisdom concern the predicted returns dynamic walls deliver, compared with standard revenue subscription models.
“It ranges widely, but I’ve never seen anything less than a 15% lift. Sometimes it is well over a 100% lift.”
There’s a caveat however. “High quality content that taps into an emotional need and solves a real tangible problem is a must-have for any such paywall to work. All the AI in the world can’t fix low quality content.”
He has yet more to say on whether every news organization out there today requires an AI-driven revenue system moving forwards.
“Yes. We’re trying to balance various business objectives; ad sales, email capture, subscription sales, event tickets and we need to know what offer to make when to whom.
“Dynamic paywalls will become must-have. While people are much more willing to pay for content today than just two years ago, our concern is we’re going to hit subscription fatigue at some point soon, i.e. ‘I already have ten subscriptions, I can’t buy another one.’
“To win share of wallet, marketers need to be savvy with customer segmentation, and dynamic paywalls support that strategy.”
News organizations, disruptive adaptation and financial sustainability
Rob strongly believes every news organization out there must constantly seek new revenue and payment models, if they’re genuinely in the game for long term success. Remember; the answer is always in the data.
“We have built an engaged audience and know a lot about them through our first-party data. These are assets companies in other industries would salivate over.
“We need to figure out what else to sell them. The good news is the answer is in the data, publishers just need to know how to ask the right questions of their data.
“The biggest challenge we see is publishers have more data, tools, AI, technology, dashboards, and analytical suites than they know what to do with. The way to succeed to is ask the right questions of your data and technology.”
New York Media’s viewpoint
Jason Sylva, New York Media’s GM / head of consumer marketing revenue, is another firm advocate of the data/content marriage for success.
“Any consumer business works best when aligned with high quality content. Specifically to dynamic walls, the more varied the content mix (short, long, newsy, features) and referrals (social, search, newsletter, direct) the easier it is to start identifying distinct personas.
“We are taking cues from the audience; what they read, how they read it, when, how often, to determine whether they are a casual visitor where we should emphasize discovery, or a potential subscriber where we emphasize subscription.”
When it comes to the future for dynamic walls, he wants to see more adoption, more data and smarter decisions from today’s news organizations, mirroring Rob’s view that all news companies should be seeking a broader mix of revenue streams.
The final word
This exploration has highlighted the complexity of quality journalism’s financial disconnects, and equally the complexity of dynamic gates themselves.
Yet the sense is many in the industry are convinced, or at least prepared to be convinced, that such dynamic AI systems truly could make newsrooms sustainable into the future.
At a time when reliable, trustworthy journalistic content is so urgently required to maintain the stable walls that hold up global society, it may be that technical AI paywalls, plus the skills of experienced and dedicated content creators, can provide the financial foundation to secure tomorrow’s investigative world. With all the benefits that would bring.