How Google Could Help Attract Paywall Subscribers (it’s a bit of a leap)

Micropayments and digital media haven’t exactly enjoyed a happy relationship so far, and this is a bit of a travesty according to Greg Golebiewski.

Who is Golebiewski? You might not be surprised to learn he is the CEO of a micropayment provider, Znak It. So his argument is a little self-serving, but still valuable. In the age of newspaper paywalls, Golebiewski  tells Paid Content newspaper publishers are missing a trick with not using micropayments to, say, offer a single article for a few pence to entice new readers. One of the schools of thought around paywalls is they’re not half bad for monetising online readers, but sub-par when it comes to growing a reader/subscriber base.

Says Golebiewski, “it’s extremely difficult to break that notion, the theory that micropayments don’t sell. [Critics] don’t have any data… it’s very difficult to go to them and say we have a flexible system for payments and then when they figure out it’s micropayments, they stop listening.”

Speaking of data, Znak It has some to back-up the CEO’s enthusiasm for micropayments. The company ran five pilot projects to see how many participants would buy a range of digital content; videos, music and written. Some 1,281 “buyers” emerged from a total of 43,000 unique users. According to Paid Content, “as many as 5 percent of the unique users wound up becoming buyers (paywalls usually get about one percent conversion).”

Znak It whitepaper

So what’s going to get micropayments into the mainstream? Google/YouTube might be the answer. Stick with me.

Google’s online video behemoth has been linked to the idea of a subscription model service, supplementing the traditional ad-revenues, for quite some time. Fresh rumours emerged in this weekend’s FT, with a report declaring “Google is on the verge of unveiling an à la carte subscription service for some of YouTube’s specialist video channels” (alternative info here for those sans an FT sub).

YouTube

“A la carte subscription service” is a little vague, as rumours tend to be, but the article goes on to say users could subscribe to channels “as little as $1.99 a month”. I guess that’s a la carte in the sense you pick a channel to subscribe to, rather than ‘subscribing to YouTube’. Whatever the specifics, this isn’t a million miles away from a micropayments system. True you’ll be subscribing to an entire channel rather than a single video, but chances are it’s a single video that will be the trigger to purchase in the first place – so not so far from buying one newspaper article through micropayment. The relatively low cost is another similarity.

The new system, combined with the prevalence of YouTube, could bring the concept of micropayments to a mass user base. It’s simplistic thinking, but it’s a start – and not the first time a big technology company has kick-started a digital content payment trend. How many people would have spent a few quid on a small software program for their mobile in 2006?

It could happen. Bit ironic potentially too – if Google ends up helping newspaper publishers develop a revenue stream from micropayments, after the ‘evil’ Internet got them into this fine mess in the first place.

What The Times’ new paywall update means for PRs

It’s emerged this week The Times newspaper is backtracking ever so slightly on its paywall policy. It really is ‘ever so slightly’, two sentences at a time.

the times paywall

When The Times’ paywall shot up in May 2010 it was unique. Unique because it completely closed off all access to the site’s editorial content for non-subscribers. This contrasted harshly with other paywalls that allowed readers to view a select number of articles or at least read the headline and first paragraph, notably the FT but other trade and specialist titles too.

Now the News Corp owned paper has backtracked. Google, Bing and any other search engine’s crawlers will be able to grab the first two sentences the paper’s editorial articles and index them alongside freely accessible sites. The update should happen next month, says The Telegraph.

Paid Content rightly suggests this is an effort to market the paper to new customers, having reached over 130,000 paying subscribers since the paywall went up. Ignoring the “drive by traffic” has been at the heart of The Times’ strategy, and it’s nice to know the paper’s digital team are willing to reassess their position a few years in.

But what does this mean for PRs?

When the paywall first went up I had a few questions over the value of the paper for PRs, effectively weighing the worth of reaching a fledgling but well targeted audience with a wider, more causal readership. There were also questions of exclusive stories with a site paywalled up to the eyeballs, and generally how monitoring would be tougher for PRs.

The latest update means it is work revisiting these topics:

  • Exclusives: well it seems you can have your cake and eat it too. Or other clichés. From a PR perspective, The Times is much more appealing for an exclusive story with a few bricks knocked out of the paywall. Your story will now get to the national broadsheet readers who are arguably far more engaged than the legions of causal readers hitting guardian.co.uk and telegraph.co.uk everyday. If you’re looking after a brand whose name won’t grab attention in headlines, this is even more appealing.
  • Monitoring: this will get a whole lot easier, especially for anyone scanning nationals for client and industry coverage to compile a morning news scan. If there’s a big story picked up by other nationals, I’ll bet my Gorkana log-in few PRs have included a Times article in news scans over the last two years. You’re just so much more likely to find it somewhere else first. Presumably the update means Times content will be included in Google Alerts too, but Paid Content confirmed monitoring services such as Meltwater are still off the cards. The downside is any client without a sub won’t be able to read the entire article in their scan, but at least The Times will be back on the radar. Which leads us to…
  • Influence vs exposure: this makes me wonder if Times writers have become less influential than their counterparts at other papers, whose stories are freely viewable by PRs, analysts, clients and…everyone. Does lack of exposure mean less influence? It’s not impossible, but if it’s the case the new paywall could reverse this process. Of course the majority of Times’ writers can be followed on Twitter, and the editorial team haven’t been hidden away in a cupboard since 2010. Some of them started a Tumblr.

@simonhill

Mobile News Consumption in UK leads Europe: Proud to be British

Last week we posted a piece for fans of mobile news consumption in the US, and now those of us in Europe are getting some of the action too.

After the The State of the News Media 2012 revealed an increase in mobile news gobbling in the US, ComScore thought ‘we need to get in on this surveying of mobile what-not business’. So here we are, a lovely survey showing how mobile news consumption is up in Europe as well.

UK mobile news consumption

And consume we do. You think those yanks like their news on the go? Well, over 46% of us smartphone owning Brits are accessing news through our devices, compared to the European average of 37%. Yep we’re ahead of the curve and beating the our nearest competition the French and Spanish, with 37% and 32% respectively (based on January 2012 numbers). I guess we just want news more, makes you proud to be British.

ComScore mobiel news consumption

Source: ComScore website

There’s no word on tablet-based news gorging. Perhaps ComScore think us Europeans are a little behind the US when it comes to table usage. My own survey based on last week’s queues indicates 100% of ComScore employees did not walk past an Apple store last week.

No insight as to how users are landing on the news pages through their phones either. They survey looked at a mixture of dedicated app and mobile browser traffic. Naturally dedicated app traffic is coming direct through apps, but it would be nice to see if smartphone users are tapping in website addresses or are wondering in through Twitter, Facebook and other social sites.

Regardless, these latest figures show the hunger for news on-the-go is increasing like the clappers on both sides of the pond.

@simonhill

FT Mobile Growth: Infographic

The FT’s digital audience growth is going from strength to strength, with more readers logging on while off the desktop – both during breakfast and on commute home.

That’s according to the below infographic, take a look for yourself:

FT Mobile Infographic

Source: FT via Paid Content

 

Paywalls vs the Blogosphere: which of these is the future of journalism?

We all know where the more conservative of newspapers, that is The Times, FT, WSJ and the like, are pining their future hopes for digital revenue. In various incarnations, each is restricting access to online news for the average Joe web browsers with a paywall system.

With all the hype about the Royal Wedding and four whole days off for nought, this more liberal attempt at generating revenue online almost slipped by.

The Guardian posted an interesting entry on the media centric Organ Grinder blog last week. In it, the paper’s head of media and technology Dan Sabbagh called for media and technology bloggers to come forth and offer up their home grown content in a sort of tit for tat exchange of stories.

The idea behind this is quite simple. Rather than hide content behind a paywall for “elitist” readers only, sharing content pulls readers from guardian.co.uk to the blogs and vice versa. Partner blogs keep their independence while simultaneously upping their Google rankings, which “we all need…these days”, and making their site more valuable from an advertising perspective. All the while, The Guardian reaps the benefits of expert, authoritative and informed reporting from an extended network of online writers.

Everyone’s a winner then.

This isn’t exactly bold new ground  for The Guardian. As the post notes, a similar system has been in place for environmental bloggers for some time. I also often find posts from Paid Content, a site owned by Guardian Media Group, popping up on guardian.co.uk in various sections, and Guardian posts in my Paid Content feed.

What is new is the formalisation of the process for the tech and media sections. An educated guess suggests the environmental blogging tie ups have yielded some success, and now more experimentation is desired by the Guardian big wigs.

It’s an interesting proposition. On the one hand it is refreshing to see a national paper admit there may be some angles and levels of expertise that can’t be covered sufficiently by a reporter with a national remit. That’s no disrespect to the staffers of the world, every single one of us has limitations. The flip side is, any blogs chosen for this scheme will have to be similar in tone, agenda and political persuasion to The Guardian in order to be accepted by loyal readers.

Without this, you’ll end up with a hotchpotch of posts flying about the site that will confuse and annoy readers – swiftly followed by the sounds of another paper’s URL hastily being tapped into an address bar.