How a maverick publication found their perfect paywall

Daily Maverick, predominantly an ad-funded digital newspaper, created multiple novel sources of revenue using Jamatto pay-as-you-go. Here’s their journey plus eight take-away lessons that apply to every digital publication considering their paywall and subscription options for 2019.

Daily Maverick (DM) is an online publication which delivers hard-hitting commentary on South African political and social news events. While a substantial chunk of their revenues came from large benefactors, as a free digital-only publisher, advertising revenue is an important source of income to ensure their independence.

Given the perceived importance of their journalism in its contribution towards combatting corruption in society, there was a clear opportunity to explore alternative revenue streams directly from their loyal readers who don’t like to see ads.

The Challenge

The average reader of the DM is a wealthy, politically aware reader, which often goes hand-in-hand with a high adblocker adoption rate (15% in early 2017, and rising). While constrained by their absolute commitment to remaining a free source of news, the publication itself has an appetite for utilising technology and data in creative ways.

The Solution

Jamatto proposed a porous paywall that would only be shown to readers using an adblocker. The paywall was designed to educate the reader about the importance of funding news, either via advertising or via direct reader revenues.

“The one-time Jamatto integration was effortless. Really a pleasure working with someone of their competence.”

As most of the technology work at the DM is outsourced, the Jamatto single-tag solution perfectly fit their tight budget and timeline constraints. They could test the tag in one day, and deploy to production the next.

Since implementation, the use of adblockers on the DM has fallen to an astonishing 2% (down from 15%). At the same time, those readers who choose not to turn off their adblockers voluntarily contribute between $5 and $20 per 1,000 impressions — a remarkable testament to the quality and importance of the DM’s journalism.

Off the back of the remarkable revenues coming from just 2% of their audience, the DM realised that they were sitting on significant untapped voluntary reader revenues. In mid-2018 they rolled out their Maverick Insider programme, a voluntary subscription model, not unlike that of The Guardian.

Jamatto continues to play a growing role in the DM’s monetisation strategy. Without the DM having to do any additional technical work, they now offer a porous pay-as-you-go paywall to readers navigating to articles older than one year — the so-called Archives. Already, the Archive paywall is starting to show per impression revenues similar to the adblocking paywall.

Most significantly, the Adblock and Archive paywalls are proving a valuable upsell funnel to the DM’s Maverick Insider programme.

8 Key Take-Aways

  1. Your paywall initiative doesn’t have to be complex or expensive. The DM initiative went live within days, and cost them nothing to implement. Furthermore, all design, A/B testing, and increase in scope to encompass the Archives was handled entirely by Jamatto’s team of designers and programmers.
  2. A pay-as-you-go option serves as a great initial step towards your subscription model. By combing through reams of purchase data, a definite path to subscription is evident: regular readers first test the paywall by purchasing day passes before graduating on to buying cost-effective one- and six-month passes. As an added bonus, there is very little negative reaction from readers when the pay-as-you-go option is optional. Think of the potential of adding pay-as-you-go to the front of your metered paywall.
  3. A/B testing is key. After go-live, initial results showed that readers were willing to whitelist — but not yet ready to pay. Through continued A/B testing of design, messaging, price points and package offerings, we were not only able to improve the adblock whitelisting rate, but also push pay-as-you-go to be substantially better than programmatic advertising revenues. Publications, content and readers are so different, so it is naïve to think that the success of any digital initiative is not hugely dependent on regular A/B testing.
  4. It is possible to improve adblock rates with great educational messaging. At the time of writing this case, the adblock rate on the DM is just 2% — down from 15%. Our A/B tests show that offering a pay-as-you-go alternative dramatically improves the whitelisting rate — probably because, in seeing a pay-as-you-go price point, readers are able to understand the relative value of ads.
  5. Readers who really hate ads are willing to pay-as-they-go. Offers will have to be tested but offering options of pay-as-you-go day passes and month passes will appeal. In many cases, a great user experience and convenience of payment easily trumps free. Earnings on a per-impression basis can be better than the blocked ads themselves!
  6. Your paywall won’t lose your loyal readers if you give options. Some people are just not ready to become a regular paying subscriber or contributor. Give them the chance to continue building their loyalty to your brand by letting them pay-as-they-go. If they visit regularly enough, your value-for-money subscription will become an obvious next choice.
  7. Don’t be discouraged by your initial results — this is all meaningful data. Ensure you are working with technology partners that allow for easy and agile testing and refinement — you will discover an effective monetisation approach for your publication.
  8. Sometimes the biggest risk is doing nothing. In the time it will take you to plan the perfect paywall strategy for 2019, you could have implemented several low-risk paywall strategies, and A/B tested hundreds of messages and price points. That way, when you are ready to implement your perfect paywall strategy, you’ll have at your fingertips data that is valuable and relevant, and a database of paying users. Go on: be a Maverick!

About Jamatto

Jamatto was born from the conviction that everyone should be able to access a broad range of quality news — easily and without paying a fortune for it. While this access was once paid for by advertising, downward pressures on advertising no longer generate enough revenue to sustain quality news. Subscriptions to multiple newspapers are not a practical option either. Jamatto offers a number of solutions for publishers, all powered by the Jamatto button, the smartest way to make small payments online.

Contact us today at info@jamatto.com to discuss your paywall ideas and solutions.