The New Paywall Is “Bendable”: How the Wall Street Journal Re-Defined the Paywall and How You Can Grow Subscribers by More Than 30%

27 Apr 2018 | By John Sviland

Publishers face the ever growing challenge of declining ad revenue due to market-dominating platforms like Google and Facebook. And with so much free content for easy consumption and changing user behavior it is a serious challenge for publishers to sell subscriptions, stop the decline and grow revenues.

Part of this challenge is that publishers have adopted paywalls that are static and all inclusive, ignoring that users have different interests, needs and propensity to subscribe.

Publishers have tried to implement three different paywall models over the last few years, but they all have challenges

  • Hard Paywall - Assumes the user knows and is interested in the product. Users without a keen interest or knowledge of the product will typically leave and never return.

  • Metered Access - Assumes users can be attracted to subscribe by allowing free access to some subscription generating articles decided by the publisher. If using subscription triggering articles for this - why give away so many of those? If not, how to convince the user to pay an annual subscription based on something that doesn't convert?

  • Freemium – Similar to metered access with similar challenges.

These models are pre-defined regardless of who interacts with the website. Furthermore, the models are putting the content first, not the user. WSJ’s paywall has proven itself successful by putting the user first.

As a publisher you should ask yourself:

  • Which visitors can you convert to become subscribers?

  • Which visitors should receive which offer?

  • When should these visitors receive the offers?

Three key elements to rapidly grow your subscriptions

It´s the data, stupid!

It starts with anonymous first party data – collect, interpret and action the data on your own sites. Publishers often have plenty of raw data, but many struggle to gain actionable insights that marketers can understand and use. Applying the right technology and analysis to these the data, provides the publisher tremendous insight about each individual visitor that can be used to improve the user experience and conversions.

Use personalization to drive interest in subscribing

Each visitor needs to be treated as an individual, and not as a group or segment. Individualized personalization with publisher control allows each visitor to see articles that are more interesting to that user, and increases the engagement and the probability of subscribing. Good personalization technology can learn which algorithms work better best and automatically optimize, as well as allowing control of the experience and customer journey to accomplish the business goals.

Individualize the paywall

Experience shows that there is a great difference between how many page views it takes to convert different users, and both interests and context play a significant role. The personalization of messages and offers show considerably higher conversion rates. For optimal conversion results, the paywall should by dynamic and personalised in terms of timing, context and offers. From a practical perspective, this means that some users can consume quite a few articles before receiving a subscription offer and others will experience a hard paywall.

The result is a bendable paywall that uses advanced data analytics and machine learning to understand user interest and propensities to subscribe.Together with real time contextual data, a customized visitor experience occurs for the unique acquisition path from accessing the site, to serving various offers and then leveraging the likelihood of subscribing.

Dow Jones re-defined the Wall Street Journal’s paywall to become dynamic by implementing these four steps

  1. Articulating user / customer first (instead of the content)

  2. Develop propensity models for users

  3. Deploy an intelligent data layer with individualization to convert users to subscribers

  4. Balance subscription offers and degree of open content with ad revenues

Katie Vanneck Smith, President and Chief Customer Officer at Dow Jones, stated, “we have had tremendous success with using audience data and real time personalization to convert online readers to members using Cxense software.”

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