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).


“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.

Social Media’s new Medium

Twitter Founders Ev Williams and Biz Stone are in the process of hyping up their new sites, Medium and Branch.

Not being one of the fortunate few to get pre-launch access to contribute to either site, my snooping has been limited to exploring the content.

On first impressions, Branch left me cold. The concept of allowing more in depth conversation is solid, but I’m not really one for long-running conversations on the internet. I can see specialists gathering round to discuss their particular interests, but not broader society who are generally interested in many things. The first time I looked at a conversation on Branch, my immediate reaction was that it was just a web forum of the type that has been around since the 90s. Once the site’s up and running, and you’re able to search and navigate for conversations, I’m sure it’ll prove its worth. I can definitely see its potential for collaboration and building deeper communities online. I’d say the Jury’s still out.

Medium, on the other hand, blew me away. It’s slick, it’s clever and I can see it taking on the likes of Pinterest and Tumblr and winning. The richness of the media, the breadth of what you can do and the ability to collaborate as well as stand on your own seems to fill a nice gap that sits between the microblogging type experience offered by twitter and the deeper, more time-consuming experience needed for blogging.

The templates used by Medium are visually strong, the content on there at the moment is beautiful, but can that quality be maintained? I hope it will. I’ve only spent a short amount of time poking around Medium and I’m already eager get access and start using it. If it can make others feel the same way, then it has a very bright future.


A photo tells of Diamond’s departure

Bob Diamond’s departure from Barclays has, predictably, led to a lot of puns. No doubt headline writers everywhere are celebrating their good fortune at receiving such an obviously mockable name, but at the same time straining their brains in an effort to avoid the most obvious gags. However, take a moment to appreciate the early goal scored by the photo editors and researchers at the FT.

Selecting the right image to go with a story is incredibly important. Photo editors search through thousands of images every day in the hunt for the right image for every story. With news breaking online, there isn’t the luxury of an afternoon to scour the archives and databases, images must be sourced quickly, but quality must not suffer.

It is for this reason, that we must laud the team at the FT for selecting this brilliant image of Bob Diamond.

The dejected look on his face is the classic pose of someone walking away. The positioning of Bob Diamond on the left, with his back partially toward us – simultaneously walking into the image, yet walking away from the viewer – tells us of his departure.

Finally, the defocused background hinting at a sparkly object just screams ‘diamond’. The photo editors have skilfully told the story and made the pun.


Media Brand Reps outweigh Facebook and Twitter recommendations

Good news for fans of mobile news consumption in the US – mobile news consumption in the US is on the up.

Mobile news

That’s according to The State of the News Media 2012, which is an annual report on American Journalism from Pew Research, don’t you know.

The report is, according to The Guardian’s Greenslade blog, a “comprehensive analysis of the health of journalism in America”. Results show those in the US who consume news on mobile devices are not replacing their previous news digestion habits, but adding to them. They’re also reading more, and for longer.

According to the report, 34% of PC (desktop and laptop) news enthusiasts now also get their news on a smartphone – presumably when they are not using said PC while on the bus, out for a stroll or queuing up (perhaps to buy a newspaper, just for giggles). Even with one mobile device as a news source, over a quarter (27%) also consume news on a tablet. That’s at least three separate connected devices all used to get their news.

Is this surprising? Not so much. Rather than actively choosing to consume news on different devices, the ease of use and readily available apps means consumers will pick up whatever is nearest / most appropriate for location. For example, when out and about walking to the train station you’ll scroll through news on your phone, and then when/if you take a seat on the train you can switch to your tablet before hitting up your desktop at work.

What is interesting is the perception of a media outlet’s brand verses social media. According to The Guardian piece, “despite the explosion in social media use through the likes of Facebook and Twitter, recommendations from friends are not yet a major factor in steering news consumption” when compared to a publication’s brand and reputation. It seems we’re far more likely to trust an established media outlet with our mobile news than a link with ‘this cat video is so funny lolz’ on our Twitter feed.


Future Culls Print in Favour of Digital – or ‘the Future’s Bright’

Some worrying news came out last week regarding Future Publishing. The publisher of special-interest titles confirmed a full 10% of its 1,000 strong workforce is to be made redundant and eight print titles will face closure or be sold on, all following poor company performance in the US.

Future Publishing

On the potential chopping board are DVD & Blu-Ray Review, Hi-Fi Choice, What Satellite & Digital TV, Home Cinema Choice, London Tech Guides & Bookazines, Photoshop Focus Guides, Nitro and Redline. Presumably the 100 job will come from mostly, if not entirely, those titles. It wasn’t so long ago Future made cuts in the UK too, closing print titles including PC Answers magazine.

The one silver lining is the news is part of a wider move toward more focus on digital publishing – hence less print titles. As Paid Content puts it “the move will streamline the company to focus more on digital content”.  Indeed, while profits from print sales and advertising may be a sizable thorn in Future’s side, digital on its own is apparently doing well. In May digital revenues passed £1 million for the first time, which now represents a third of total ad revenue.

As bad news as closures may be, it’s encouraging to see a significant publisher taking a strong stance in digital and, seemingly, making it work as a standalone business. Future has developed a few pioneering digital initiatives, T3’s iPad app for one, and this may be the ‘re-focus’ the company needs to push on in the digital space.