Micropayments Can Provide a Good Way In for New Readers

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"An easy micropayment system for digital content could help save journalism... In my book, The Innovators, I report on how the creators of the web envisioned protocols that would allow digital payments, and I argue that this would benefit individual artists, writers, bloggers, game-makers, musicians, and entrepreneurs."
Walter Isaacson, best-selling author

Note the "and entrepreneurs" part. About a month ago, I wrote about a plan by Blendle, a Dutch-based, pay-per-article company, to launch in the United States. More than 120 German publishers and 60 Dutch news outlets—of both newspapers and magazines—have signed up to the platform, and over half of the 550,000 registered users are under the age of 35.

When we talk about micropayments, it's easy to dismiss because at, let's say, 25 cents to $1 an article, it will take a lot of usage to produce significant revenue for a niche publisher. But there are two other important outcomes to consider: lead generation—look at all those new, young readers who are paying something for content—and knowing what topics most interest your readers.

The Winnipeg Free Press is now about six months into a pay-per-article model, and a story last month by their VP of digital, which appeared on the International News Media Association site, details the results so far.

Here are some key points:

- Their metered paywall is short. After three articles, users are asked to register. This is followed by a 30-day unlimited-content trial. After that, users can choose between an all-access monthly subscription (at $16.99) or a pay-by-the-article plan (at $0.27)—with a money-back guarantee on every article.

- Users pay after reading articles. "On a monthly basis, we keep track of everything our readers consume, subtract what they have refunded, and then charge their preferred form of payment," said Iain Coates, manager of business insight and strategy.

- Personalization is huge for them. In an average day, the paper publishes 350 pieces of content, but its readers look at only about six articles over five minutes. So they did not need to produce more. They needed to monetize what they have, so they implemented a content-recommendation engine on the website. Each page is personalized based on a "complex set of rules marrying newsroom curation, popular and trending articles, and what is important to each individual reader based on their past behavior on the site, their demographics, and how they arrived at the site."

- Pay-per-article helps to guide them editorially. "Individual-article sales provide new insight on what interests our readers, and that does play a role in informing editorial decisions," said Wendy Sawatzky, associate editor for digital news. (For instance, the local advice columnist has drawn lots of interest, so they will try to expand on that.) "...I hope we can do even better by showing readers articles of interest that they might not have otherwise found on our site."

- People do buy individual articles. More than 6,000 new readers are either subscribing monthly or paying by the article, and growth continues. In four months, the paper sold more than 100,000 individual articles. They do not believe that those readers are previous subscribers, thinking of it more as a new entry point. Also, many more print subscribers have registered digitally.

SIIA member Subscription Insider also ran a good article on this topic a few months ago. They noted that Milwaukee Magazine has also launched a micropayment system for some of its content. "Readers can subscribe for full digital access for $19 per year, or they can pay as little as $0.25 per article, via iMoneza, a cloud-based payment gateway for processing micropayments for digital media. Readers can pre-pay a specific amount to use as a credit for future purchases."\

To paraphrase Isaacson, stay tuned.


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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…