How to make your digital readers want to pay — from micropayments to social media subscriptions

As media publishers continuously announce paywalls for their premium content, so are consumers becoming more aware and demanding of the content they read online. This has created a debate, covering a user-willingness to prioritise, and pay for, digital news. Though lately, it seems, the focus has slightly shifted. No longer is the debate asking ‘will consumers pay for quality content?’, but rather ‘how many different subscriptions can a consumer put up with?’

With Quartz, The Information and Axios spearheading the subscription models a few years back, showing the payoff of a paywall, other actors have followed ready to find inventive ways for newsroom monetisation. And the outcome is of considerable size. Call-to-action micro support payment seems to have worked well for The Guardian. The new project The Correspondent put their trust in pay-what-you-can-memberships. The Economist and The New York Times, among others, work with a ‘soft paywall’ that will allow for a small amount of free articles per week.

While it is true that different monetisation models work for different actors, in this article we hear from two micropayment platform pioneers describing how their solutions can enable consumer revenue without signing up for numerous subscriptions.

Cosmin Ene, Founder & CEO of LaterPay, sees that a combination of choice and trust based models will help publishers succeed in monetising more users going forward. He describes that with their patented Pay-Later model, where readers do not pay until they’ve reached a $5 threshold, they help onboard users into paying customers.

Aaron Lindner, Head of Product at SatoshiPay, describes a model of two-way payments with transactions logged on blockchain. This way publishers can, as well as receive money from their users, also pay a small sum back to encourage newsletter subscriptions, community contributions or content interaction.

Also given a voice is Karla Geci, Head of Media Partnerships EMEA, Facebook, who explains their strategy to test support for subscriptions models in Facebook Instant Articles and how it can generate high revenue.

Karla Geci, Facebook: ‘ The ad revenue publishers generate from a page view in Instant Articles is higher than an equivalent page view on the standard mobile web’

GEN: The sign up button for news publishers was unveiled this year. What was the motivation behind it?

For over a year, we’ve also been developing other tools in Instant Articles to help publishers build deeper relationships with their audiences, including Email Sign-Up and App Install buttons. For many publishers, the goal is that this ultimately leads to a paid subscription, and we want to help facilitate that relationship within Instant Articles and on Facebook. Publishers not using Instant Articles already have the ability to implement paywalls and subscription models on the mobile web.

In which countries did you test the button first? Why did you start there?

How many news organisations are currently making use of the tool?

The Washington Post, La Repubblica and San Francisco Chronicle are a few of the publishers to to test support for subscriptions models in Instant Articles.

Has the button driven subscriptions? In what markets is it driving the most subscriptions?

How will the button benefit local news organisations?

Originally designed to be a three-month programme, in August 2018 we announced that we’ll continue to coach the group of metro news publishers from the pilot programme until the end of this year, and we will reconvene with them in 2019 to focus on subscriber retention.

We also launched the Facebook Membership Accelerator, a USD 3.5 million, three-month pilot programme designed to help news organisations with membership models take a bold step forwards in their membership approach and execution.

According to Tow Center research, news organisations are said to be abandoning Instant Articles due to a lack of monetisation. What is in the pipeline to go against the trend?

What advice can you give to news organisations to make the most of what Facebook has to offer without diluting their brands?

Cosmin Ene, LaterPay: ‘We help publishers monetise users that will never become subscribers by reducing the commitment, offering content at a fair price, making the purchase easy and providing immediate access’

GEN: In your own words, how does your company work?

We help publishers earn more revenue in two ways. First, we move readers from the middle of the subscription funnel towards becoming subscribers, with a double digit percentage of readers who have purchased content with LaterPay converting to subscribers. Second, we make it very easy to generate direct revenue from the 90% of readers who will never subscribe. This amounts to significant revenue for publications, with no cannibalisation of subscriptions.

A special ingredient of our success is the patented Pay-Later capability which enables us to gently onboard users into paying customers. Users are 2–2.5 times more likely to repurchase when offered to pay for the content later.

How many news organisations are currently partnering with LaterPay?

How do you ensure a smooth user experience?

How will you evolve — what’s on the roadmap for the next few years?

For example, we recently developed the LaterPay Button for contributions and donations, allowing publishers and nonprofits to collect financial support from users, while maintaining a superior user experience. The LaterPay Button lets users make monetary contributions with a single click and turns the impulse to do good into real transactions within seconds. Publishers and charities have observed a five times participation rate with the LaterPay Button.

Additionally, we’re focusing on partnering with Content Management System platforms in order to improve the integration process and enable publishers to start using LaterPay even quicker.

Using our pay-later model as a base, we will adapt and develop complementary features based on the industry. Generally, we communicate features and products only once they are developed and ready to use.

Why do you think more and more people are willing to pay for news?

How is value assigned to a particular piece of content? What types of news article, for example, would be most expensive?

How does LaterPay create loyalty for readers to news organisations?

Our model offers publishers the ability to convert their mid-funnel readers, that is readers that are already loyal to their content but have never paid for it, to becoming subscribers. Additionally, we help publishers monetise users that will never become subscribers by reducing the commitment, offering content at a fair price, making the purchase easy and providing immediate access.

What makes you stand out from your competitors?

  1. Our integration methods which range from the super simple creation of LaterPay Buttons within 30 seconds to a more flexible and in-depth API integration. The LaterPay Button can be created in 3 steps and within 30 seconds on our website and while the generated code snippet can be embedded into any CMS, the link can be used in websites, email newsletters or messaging apps like WhatsApp. Our Connector integration enables an integration within minutes, essentially by dropping a few lines of code into your frontend. And then there are the plugins for Wordpress, video players like FlowPlayer, JWPlayer and the flexible API integration.
  2. LaterPay is the industry’s first solution for on-platform monetisation. We empower content providers to stay in full control, monetising their own traffic as well as traffic from referral sites directly on their platform.

Aaron Lindner, SatoshiPay: ‘Our vision is to enable seamless and fair value exchange between any internet-connected device’

GEN: In your words, how does SatoshiPay work?

  • Simple pay-per-item for text, images, video, audio, downloads
  • Timed access (e.g. hour/day/week/month pass) this could be combined with ad block detection (only ask users with ad blockers to pay) or an ad-free experience provided by the publisher
  • Donations
  • Value-added content, e.g. subtitles to a free video
  • Pay per usage, e.g. by seconds watched on a continuous live stream

To increase user engagement and retention, publishers can also pay small amounts back to users e.g. to incentivise newsletter signups, community contributions or interaction with certain content or ads (two-way payments).

When a user comes to a SatoshiPay partner site, a Javascript tag will load the code that provides the user wallet from our servers and displays it on the site. Users can interact with that wallet to pay for content and to manage their funds — all without installing anything, registering anywhere, or needing to provide any personal data, not even a login and password.

What benefits does SatoshiPay offer to the publisher?

It also shape user behaviour by training people to get used to paying for content (an on-ramp to subscriptions).

Additional revenue opportunities

  • Already have several subscriptions and are reluctant to add more
  • Simply don’t have the means to add a $10–20 subscription to their monthly expenses (e.g. certain international users)
  • Are interested in the content, but new to the publisher and not yet ready to commit to a long-term recurring subscription.
  • Global & currency-agnostic
  • Reach a wider audience. It makes no difference where users are located and what their native currency is. Even a user in a developing country can now afford and pay for premium content.

What benefits does it offer to the user?

Also, users are able access to more premium content that had been locked behind a too-expensive subscription-only paywall or offered by overseas publishers in a foreign currency.

We offer an ad-free experience: data related to ads makes up the vast majority of many ad-supported sites, significantly slowing them down.

Sites currently relying on ads and user tracking for monetisation could offer a cleaner, faster, ad-free user experience.

We put a strong emphasis on privacy, and do not share data. Unlike data-based ad targeting systems, SatoshiPay does not track and collect any user data. Transactions and balances are logged on the blockchain, not our servers. Unlike classical subscription systems, users do not have to provide name, email address, or any other personal data to use SatoshiPay.

What sets you apart from your competitors?

  • Two-way payments
  • Ability to pre-fund users
  • Instant payouts, starting from the very first transaction
  • No chargeback risk
  • Not holding user funds offers several operational advantages:
  • No central database that can be hacked or fail
  • Lower security requirements
  • Removes requirements to apply for various e-money licenses in each jurisdiction we serve

How do you communicate about something as complicated as blockchain to your users? Or do you downplay it?

  • We indeed do openly communicate to the publishers that SatoshiPay is based on blockchain technology (as already indicated by our company’s name), as this comes with exciting new possibilities, and we want to attract innovative publishers to work with us.
  • With regards to the end users (and therefore our client UX) we indeed do not offensively communicate the blockchain aspect, but instead focus on a rather familiar user experience. That’s because we have to make sure that all end users feel comfortable using our payment solution, regardless of whether they are tech-savvy or not.

How will your product evolve over the next few years? Do you have any goals in mind?

Our payment solution for online publishing is merely one application that sits on top of this API. Based on feedback from publishers, we have exciting ideas to develop it further, targeting big publishing houses, but also smaller long-tail bloggers and creators. Long-term, we see very interesting use cases for our API, e.g. in the areas of Internet of Things (IoT), Machine-to-Machine (M2M), gaming, loyalty programs, metered applications, etc.

We also invite third-party developers to use our API in other creative ways.

We are planning to go public this year which should provide us with enough funding to pursue this long-term strategy.

Interviews made by Freia Nahser for the Global Editors Network.

Karla Geci: Head of Media Partners Programs, Facebook EMEA, UK. Karla partners with media organisations and content creators to help them leverage Facebook tools and products and enable social news and video experiences on digital surfaces. Karla joined Facebook in 2010 and was then responsible for growing adoption of the Facebook Platform in EMEA and partnering with the Facebook developer community.

Cosmin Ene is an entrepreneurial founder with first-hand understanding of the life cycle of entrepreneurial ventures, which he has accumulated over 20 years. Startups he led went through all stages of development from initial idea to marketing and sales, including business development and financing. In 2010, Ene started LaterPay, a micropayment enabler.

Aaron Lindner, PhD: In the last 10 years, Aaron has successfully co-founded two startups and realised several internet and media projects for the renown Max Planck Society. Aaron is active in the blockchain space since 2012 and now drives the product roadmap and growth strategy for SatoshiPay, a micropayment solution that gives publishers novel monetisation options with many creative use cases next to advertising and subscriptions.

Global Editors Network

The Global Editors Network (GEN) is the worldwide association of editors-in-chief founded in 2011.

Global Editors Network

Written by

The Global Editors Network is the worldwide association of editors-in-chief and media executives. We foster media innovation and sustainable journalism.

Global Editors Network

The Global Editors Network (GEN) is the worldwide association of editors-in-chief founded in 2011.

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