The state of the paywall: Where do we go from here?

Here are my takeaways from the latest GEN Summit, which I was fortunate to attend. (1) The Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2019 was top of mind, but few people focused on the finding that many users would rather subscribe to music and film services than for news – that’s what the publishing industry is up against. (2) If the trend of users only having one news subscription persists, that means precisely zero revenue is available for anyone else, if all they are offering are subscriptions. It makes the case for why we need to provide different ways for people to contribute regularly to multiple publications. (3) I made the case for why a mango is an uncannily accurate representation of where the industry finds itself today!

Key Points

  • The positive awareness at the GEN Summit about how different monetization models can complement subscriptions was incredibly gratifying.
  • Published only a few days earlier, and officially presented at the Summit, the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2019 was top of mind for everyone.
  • One finding – that many users would rather subscribe to music and film services than for news – saw less publicity but actually tells us a lot about what users expect from online subscriptions.
  • We already live in a world where you get a huge amount of value for little money – Hulu charges $5.99 a month and Netflix starts at $8.99. That is what the publishing industry is up against.
  • With users increasingly proving unwilling to pay for multiple subscriptions each month, the industry finds itself in a dangerous position.
  • Every publisher is vying with every other publisher out there to capture each user’s revenue – for one publication to win, everyone else has to lose.
  • We need to provide different ways for people to contribute to multiple publications – through donations, contributions, and the ability to purchase individual articles.
  • These low friction models also make it very easy for users to take that first step from being a reader to being a first-time paying customer.
  • We need a combination of models in order to address the various segments of our audience.
  • With subscriptions, publishers get an initial burst of revenue, but then the rates start to plateau as subscriptions capture all the loyal audience available. Low-friction models, in contrast, build over time as they engage new customers. They build an additional revenue stream that keeps on coming.

Check out my full article here.

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