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Paywalls and the paradox of choice

We’ve all done it, haven’t we. Absolutely bailed on making a decision because there were just too many options.

I went to an event that aims to bring together newsroom leaders to discuss the challenges and opportunities of ‘digital’ and found out some publishers are moving to a more focused model to drive greater revenues.

Goodbye bundle

A lot of the assembled panelists talked of the unbundling of things to simplify their subscription models. One brand that has both print and digital products talked of how bundling products into subscription packages can assist the initial sale to have lots of things on offer, the propensity for a subscriber to cancel becomes greater the bigger the bundle.

Interviews with cancelling subscribers revealed that the breadth of  content and, in particular, the mounting pile of print editions on coffee tables made their customer feel stupid, not being able to keep up.

The brand continues to work on the unbundling of its subscription products – at its most simple digital vs. print but also in providing digests through newsletters and ’round up’ apps to simplify their proposition.

Further support for greater focus of paid content products: if you provide metered access, users who hit your ‘paywall’ are likely to be loyal already (unless you’re being super strict). You don’t have to convince them to use your product a lot because they already are…therefore churn is generally lower.

Combining Metering and Freemium (i.e.: giving some sections away for free and having some stuff behind a hard paywall) can really help bridge the monetisation gap between different user behaviours. X free articles a month followed by a tier of content that is generically useful available to subscribers followed by a further ‘premium’ level of ‘bundling’ available to the power users that want something specific diversify the product offering.

Think of it like subscription TV. You get your public service broadcasters, your basic subscription channels and then you can pay for interest-based channels depending on what you value.

And focus isn’t just good for users

At least three brands in attendance said paywalls had helped them not only to decide what to focus on but what not to focus their efforts on too.

One brand has, for the time being, suspended its events business, another had turned down the idea to create an app for ‘young people’ and none of them had ‘pivoted to video’.

The Times, the first UK news site to erect a paywall, has famously stopped doing a lot of things since it focused on subscriptions. Perhaps most-recently, it said that focusing on editions and not breaking news has lead to growth.

The customer’s always right…

It feels like there is no end to the amount of metaphors and models touted, specifically in software design, to take a user-centred approach, but content and subscriptions shouldn’t be treated any differently. All of the participants agreed: always, but even more-so when you’re asking them to pay, focus on user behaviour.

Look at the difference in content engagement between first-time visitors vs. regular visitors vs. visitors from Facebook vs. really loyal users and design content strategies personalised to those groups.

For years now, publishers have been battling with ‘personalisation’ – hoping to become the Amazon or Spotify of journalism – and trying to gather tonnes of data on individuals to decide the thing they should look at next. With a bit of focus-thinking, though, the answer might be much simpler.