It’s time to put read­ers at the cen­ter of your paid con­tent model

The Insider - - CONTENT - by: Igor Smirnoff, Chief Com­mer­cial Of­fi­cer, PressReader


I think most peo­ple would agree that try­ing to stop the print rev­enue hem­or­rhag­ing with dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing is like slap­ping a Band-Aid on a gun­shot wound. In 2015, that wound grew into a cancer that some fear is poised to tear apart the very fab­ric of the world wide web. The grow­ing epi­demic of ad block­ing, malver­tis­ing and fraud is much more than a wakeup call for pub­lish­ers; it’s a tick­ing time bomb.

Fu­eled by ad­ver­tis­ers and pub­lish­ers who put a mad rush for elu­sive prof­its be­fore peo­ple, the in­dus­try is now pay­ing the price for treat­ing the web like a dump­ing ground for their dig­i­tal de­bris. So many me­dia ex­ec­u­tives still do not seem to un­der­stand that peo­ple now own the web, not brands, and those peo­ple have the power to dic­tate what they want and don’t want in terms of me­dia.

I have to give credit to pub­lish­ers who are ex­per­i­ment­ing with a num­ber of dif­fer­ent paid con­tent mod­els to try and find the magic bul­let. Un­for­tu­nately, they’re not see­ing the re­turns they hoped for.

Me­tered and hard pay­walls

Pub­lisher pay­walls have largely plateaued. Even the poster child of pay­walls, The New York Times with one mil­lion+ dig­i­tal sub­scribers, has seen its growth flat­ten in re­cent years.

The Times’ goal is to reach 2 mil­lion dig­i­tal sub­scribers by 2020. At its cur­rent 20% growth rate they will make that. But I can’t help but think that the will­ing­ness-to-spend for dig­i­tal con­tent down­ward trends will con­tinue, mak­ing pay­walls just a short term good news story even for the iconic pub­lisher.

“iTunes for news”

Blen­dle re­ceived a lot of fan­fare in 2015 and showed some prom­ise in select Euro­pean coun­tries, pro­claim­ing they’d reached ~500K users. But ask most in­dus­try pun­dits and you’ll prob­a­bly hear that they love the mi­cro­pay­ments com­pany, although they don’t ex­pect it to suc­ceed in North America due to the wealth of free con­tent and com­pe­ti­tion on this side of the At­lantic.

News­stands (Google Play, Ama­zon, Zinio)

Ap­ple shut down its news­stand; Google isn’t far be­hind; Zinio is try­ing to rein­vent it­self. No one has ever made this model work. In­ter­est­ingly pub­lish­ers love dis­tribut­ing their con­tent through news­stands be­cause they look and act like the phys­i­cal kiosks of old. They just can’t give up on the print par­a­digms of the past – to their detri­ment.

Freemium | pre­mium

Of­ten cred­ited to Hulu, this freemium (with ads)/pre­mium (with­out ads) model has been adopted by a few pub­lish­ers (e.g. Bild) who are try­ing to re­cover their losses from the ad block­ing pan­demic. Un­for­tu­nately, this so­lu­tion cre­ates com­pe­ti­tion be­tween ad rev­enue and sub­scrip­tion rev­enue where the only an­swer is com­pro­mise (it’s one or the other, not both) – not a recipe for suc­cess in the long term.

“Net­flix for news”

Hav­ing been part of pi­o­neer­ing this pop­u­lar all-ac­cess con­tent model in 2003 (be­fore Net­flix, Readly, Magzter or the likes of Next Is­sue/Tex­ture even ex­isted), I can tell you that as much as read­ers love the model, the monthly sub­scrip­tion costs de­manded by pub­lish­ers are far too high for the dig­i­tal masses. Cer­tainly there are read­ers – let’s call them news

junkies – who are will­ing to pay to ac­cess to the whole uni­verse of con­tent, but they are a niche mar­ket with lit­tle growth po­ten­tial. I like to com­pare them to the mu­sic afi­ciona­dos who still pur­chase vinyl records – a highly dis­cern­ing crowd, but not a mar­ket loaded with money.

Clearly it’s time to dis­rupt to­day’s paid con­tent mod­els. Give read­ers what they want and pub­lish­ers will dis­cover the se­cret to mon­e­tiz­ing the masses.


I am a strong be­liever in jour­nal­is­tic ex­cel­lence and an ad­vo­cate for its com­pen­sa­tion. But I also be­lieve read­ers shouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily be the ones do­ing the pay­ing. Sound crazy? It’s not so far fetched when you think about it.

Busi­nesses have been spon­sor­ing ac­cess to printed mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers for many decades in hotels, cafes, clin­ics, of­fices, lounges and on air­planes. Why should it be any dif­fer­ent in dig­i­tal? It shouldn’t. In fact, if any­thing, the B2B re­la­tion­ship be­tween busi­nesses and pub­lish­ers should scale ex­po­nen­tially, pro­vid­ing sig­nif­i­cant value to their users and rev­enue for them­selves.


Ev­ery con­sumer-cen­tric busi­ness on the planet is feel­ing the ef­fects of dis­rup­tion, whether that be tech­nol­ogy- or busi­ness-based. Mu­sic, movies, TV, hotels, li­braries, restau­rants and travel are all feel­ing the heat from the likes of Spo­tify, Net­flix, Ex­pe­dia, Airbnb, Uber, Lyft, et al.

Tra­di­tional busi­nesses know they can’t com­pete on cost, so they are des­per­ately look­ing for ways to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them­selves and cre­ate loyal re­la­tion­ships with cus­tomers, pa­trons, em­ploy­ees and vis­i­tors through val­ueadded ser­vices. A num­ber of ho­tel chains are al­ready cre­at­ing new mil­len­nial-friendly brands (e.g. Radis­son Red, Tru by Hil­ton) to pro­vide them with the Gen-Y ex­pe­ri­ence they de­sire.

A unique ser­vice gain­ing se­ri­ous mo­men­tum across all in­dus­tries world­wide is spon­sored ac­cess to pre­mium con­tent be­cause it pro­vides unique value to their highly di­verse tar­get mar­kets, and it makes dol­lars and sense to them.

To­day, thou­sands of cus­tomer-first busi­nesses such as Qan­tas Air­ways, Ac­corHo­tels, Uber, Sil­versea Cruises and McDon­ald’s, to name just a few, are spon­sor­ing un­lim­ited ac­cess to PressReader’s 5,000+ mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers, mak­ing it an in­te­gral part of their cus­tomer rela- tion­ship strat­egy. The busi­ness model is sim­ple. It costs noth­ing for pub­lish­ers to join and when some­one (i.e. a spon­sor such as a ho­tel or air­line) pays PressReader for con­tent read by their ho­tel guests or air­line pas­sen­gers, PressReader pays the pub­lisher.

It’s a win-win-win sit­u­a­tion all around:

Read­ers get the de­sired fric­tion­less ac­cess to qual­ity, trusted con­tent and an en­gag­ing, ed­u­ca­tional or en­ter­tain­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for free; Busi­nesses are able to of­fer unique value to their cus­tomers in an eco-friendly way, sav­ing money while grow­ing brand eq­uity and loy­alty across all de­mo­graph­ics; Pub­lish­ers can in­stantly serve a mas­sive au­di­ence of hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple they couldn’t pos­si­bly reach on their own, grow­ing reach, au­dited cir­cu­la­tion and rev­enues.

Spon­sored ac­cess at a global scale is a huge op­por­tu­nity, but cre­at­ing part­ner­ships with thou­sands of busi­nesses and align­ing their needs with the world’s me­dia is a mam­moth un­der­tak­ing with ma­jor chal­lenges:

Tech­nol­ogy chal­lenges It’s pretty easy to build an ag­gre­gated site of mag­a­zines; they are dozens of com­pa­nies do­ing that to­day with more pop­ping up ev­ery month be­cause is­sues are pub­lished in­ter­mit­tently, al­low­ing time for man­u­ally pro­cess­ing of feeds.

But to process thou­sands of daily, weekly and monthly news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines 24/7/365 re­quires so­phis­ti­cated, au­to­mated con­tent pro­cess­ing so­lu­tions you can’t buy off the shelf like Adobe DPS. The tech­nol­ogy takes years to de­velop and fi­nan­cial in­vest­ments to con­tin­u­ally en­hance and main­tain it – it’s a sys­tem that is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to repli­cate.

Part­ner­ship chal­lenges

For spon­sored ac­cess to suc­ceed at a global scale, thou­sands of part­ner­ships need to be ne­go­ti­ated be­tween busi­nesses and pub­lish­ers. Not only do the re­la­tion­ships need to be fos­tered, there must be seam­less in­te­gra­tion be­tween the pub­lish­ers’ con­tent and the busi­ness’ back of­fice sys­tems, apps and cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence strate­gies and tac­tics. They must align.

Em­bark­ing on this is not for the faint of heart; take my word for it – been there, got the air­line points to prove it. And it would take years for pub­lish­ers to build enough re­la­tion­ships to start to reap any re­wards on their in­vest­ment – time pub­lish­ers and busi­nesses just don’t have in world where the only con­stant to­day is dis­rup­tion.

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