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Paywalls and Advantage

I often get questions from prospects or clients---especially daily or weekly publishers---about how a paywall could be managed in Advantage. These questions are more complicated than they may first appear, since Advantage is a customer-centric platform used mainly to manage paid subscriptions.  I recently met with a French startup company – Poool – which has developed a structured design, and a potential paywall solution for publishers using Advantage.

The rise of paywalls

A "paywall" is the term used for policies restricting access to content---partially or fully---by requiring a paid subscription at some point. It has been around since the early days of publisher websites, with the first paywall introduced in 1997 by the Wall Street Journal. The practice has expanded since then, as more publishers realized that a pure free-access model funded by advertising was not viable for supporting quality content.

The paywall model has evolved over time, as publishers found that an immediate "wall" before accessing any content caused the audience to go elsewhere. Then came the "metered paywall" initiated by the New York Times. A reader can access a set number of free articles but when the free credit limit is reached, a subscription is required in order to access more. Today, the fine tuning of paywall strategies continues, but full maturity has not yet been reached (see recent development around the NYT paywall jump, and other paywall strategies in 2016).

Advantage and paywalls

Let's get back to our primary subject: how to connect a paywall in Advantage. At first glance, those are two separate worlds. On the Advantage side, a customer only exists after being assigned a customer number and being added to the database. An email address or a phone number is all that is needed for Advantage to create a customer. ("Customer" is a broad concept in Advantage; a prospect is considered a "customer", even without having a subscription.) Any prospects that are added to Advantage and then log in to a website will also be helpful in identifying duplicate records that might have purchase history. If there is purchase history, the customer is no longer an “unidentified” one. But if one of your website visitors does not log in, and your only information is a cookie or a fingerprint , no activity will be found. The prospect in our example will remain outside of the Advantage world.

And what about the metered gatekeeper? Advantage time-based subscriptions---also called "agreements"--- enable extended access models (multiple participants, pricing model variations, multiple content areas, usage based approaches, etc.). Those crossing the "paywall" will have an agreement and become true customers. But before that step the visitor is not identified by the system.

So what is needed to bring down this "wall?” Should each cookie trigger a customer add to the database? Should an agreement be created for each prospect, so that free access can be counted? Instead of such workaround approaches, we would suggest the use of dedicated paywall applications, combined with smart integration. And Poool seems to us to be a promising solution. 

Poool, or the "subtle paywall"

Established in April 2016, Poool is a French startup company still in its early stages. It is hosted by Theophraste, an incubator supported by the French daily publisher Sud-Ouest. 

What is their starting point? Existing Paywall approaches are too primitive, simply counting the free articles read and requiring a subscription once the credit is gone. Without any refinement, they succeed in very low conversion rates at best, and lose a large part of their audience which is still needed for the advertising revenue stream at worst. 

An alternative is Piano, a solution from an American company.

What is their proposal? Poool offers a Paywall application in a Saas mode that can be integrated in just a couple of hours, which enables customized policies and a smooth user experience.

Let's be practical. Poool logs the user's behavior and converts it to an engagement score. You can establish different marketing policies connected to each score range, when the wall is reached. For instance, if the user engagement score is weak, why not offer an additional free article in exchange for answering a demographic question, in order to keep the user for the website audience counts and monetize this data with third party companies; or if the user engagement score is stronger, why not suggest joining a free newsletter list (which will give you an email address), in order to get an additional free article. Or you could push trial subscriptions at a low rate. With increasing engagement scores, subscription offers of different flavors will display at a higher pace for the visitor.

In a nutshell, Poool provides a dynamic commitment measure, and the ability for marketers to design conversion policies through an admin panel.

Currently tested at several publisher sites, the first measures show promising numbers on audience retention (+50% over the standard paywall). Impact measurement on conversion rates is still being analyzed but will likely be better.

Combining Poool and Advantage – what would that look like?

Poool appears to be flexible in joining an existing ecosystem. On the content side, a "paywall call" will be added to each page, with Poool redirecting back if needed. On the subscription and registration side, Poool enables easy pointing to the dedicated platforms, which, for Advantage, could be a Cider landing page (Cider being our integrated e-commerce solution). Poool would manage the engagement score and the Paywall policy, with a setup that may be completed in just a couple of days.

But why not go further? With Maxime Moné, one of the cofounders, we identified two promising approaches:

  • For the engagement score, why not get data from Advantage in case the visitor already has a purchase history? Or use data from the DMP (Data Management Platform) some publishers may be using. These are two additional sources that may just multiply score discrimination, a key factor to more fine-tuned policies and increased conversion rates.
  • At the CRM level, why not extend Poool in scoring subscribers. Poool may just continue to log web content usage through a "subscriber score". This score could be tracked in Advantage and may then trigger marketing efforts (through renewals, outbound calls, adjusted offers) if content usage appears weak. The score may predict a likely customer cancel or low probability of renewal. As many publishers already know, low content usage is key in explaining high attrition rates on digital subscriptions.

So, if paywalls are a topic you are dealing with and the Advantage-Poool approach may address your issues, don't hesitate to contact us for further discussions.

Filed under: Software, Homepage-News

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