Hi there and welcome to Scale. I’m your host, Stewart Ritchie, founder and lead developer at Powered by Coffee. Powered by Coffee is a web and software development agency that focuses on helping media teams solve problems with technology. Scale is a podcast on how media and content businesses are impacted by technology and sometimes, how technology is impacted by media and content businesses. Today, we have as our guest Peter Ericson, the founder and CEO of Zeen101, the makers of Leaky Paywall for WordPress, one of the bigger paywall and kind of content monetization platforms out there, and we’re going to talk about paywall strategy and more and more monetizing your audience. Pete, hand it over to you. Tell us about yourself, tell us about Leaky Paywall. How did you get here? I know a lot of good stuff.
Thanks, Stewart, for the nice intro. A little bit about myself and Leaky Paywall. So back in 98 I started a web development agency and we were doing general web development for years and years and then, about 14 years ago, Dartmouth College hired us. They wanted their Dartmouth engineer magazine to be published online, but not in a flip book or PDF format. They wanted actual, real HTML, web-based articles to be on their website so Google could index that and their students and prospective students could share these articles on the web. And so nothing existed for WordPress.
Awesome, thank you so much.
Exactly. I can expand on that a little bit. Go for it. So, yeah, so paywall.
I want to latch onto a word there. You said funnel. I want to say it’s an old marketing term, but certainly right, maybe feels a little out of vogue at the moment, but it very much feels like just another step in that funnel, that process of. Okay, here are all these people we don’t know, here are the people we have an email address of that have kind of paid a little bit in value. Then here are our paid subscribers and then from those paid subscribers, that’s not the end of that journey. There are so many other things you can move them on to, whether that’s like a slightly higher tier, add free, unique email content for just a small subset of subscribers, data products, etc. Etc. There are and then you sure you are the more and richer a variety of things you can do. Yeah, do you within that space? yes, but what’s in? but within all that, what’s interesting to me is I feel like pre-digital publishers were really good at this.
So just let me just add one thing before I add that So Yeah, sure, go on. They were so good at it. They even had a giant, or a couple of giant shared databases of mailing addresses in the US. So they covered like over 90% of US households in terms of mailing addresses And there was this big database that was shared And there’s no way you can pull that off with email, but for mailing addresses, they had this and they could target so specifically And it just worked. And even the psychology of like lift, lift cards right, you open up a magazine and the subscription card drops to the floor and it forces you to pick it up, which gives you time with the card. They really they really had it.
Is it ever occurred to me until, like, literally, as we’re talking about it, i’m like that’s like why did this change? Like I just I think there’s like there’s a good PhD thesis in that somewhere. Yes, for someone to Awesome to write about.
That would be awesome to write about.
They need to figure out how, but yeah, I’ve seen it a hundred times. I mean a hundred. I’ve seen it plenty of times.
Boy, great questions Few wrapped up in that one. Let me just start by reinforcing that. When I was down at the niche media conference in New Orleans recently and I did a presentation to a room of magazine publishers and I asked them to raise their hands Do you have digital subscriptions or are you planning on digital subscriptions in the near future? And I had crickets, i’m telling you I had 10%, maybe 15% of the room raised their hands and said, yeah, digital subscriptions. The rest are like, not interested. They’re interested. They’re interested in building their audience to serve their and to serve their advertisers.
Everyone’s a media brand now.
Yeah, everyone’s a media brand. 20 years ago, when I got into this, i was trying to convince the corporations that I was dealing with to do this. To look, you need to produce content Because you put one piece of content up. Give you a simple example. This is maybe the dumbest example, but there was a roofer wrote in and said I need a website review. We were doing website marketing reviews And a roofer in Baltimore, maryland, said hey, i need you to review my website And so I went through and reviewed it And he ended up doing YouTube videos of before and after repairs.
It was him Right.
So produce in a simple, silly example. But corporate America was really resistant to that And they still are to a large extent. But publishers have the content, they have the Google traffic And, yes, we get that question How do I turn all this traffic into paid subscribers? OK, well, back to the funnel. Right, free registration, get them in, get them on your newsletter. That is the key. And then now it’s farming. Now your newsletter is sending them back. You have good messaging on your website to target them at the right time, saying, hey, upgrade and get full access, get benefits, get all that stuff And off you go. And that’s how you do it.
That has to be a real block to the user, not just, oh, this email sign up is over here And we would like you to fill it in please, but an actual no. We need you to register too. That’s right. Yeah, it’s right in color wise, yes, yes.
Yeah, so the intro step. I think you’re alluding to the MailChimp newsletter subscribe form that you drop in Or, god forbid you pop up on the first page of a visit on your website which is please stop that. Yeah, it’s again. It’s the relationship I land on your website. I don’t want to be annoyed by ads because 40% of the world is ad blockers or something like that. That’s a clear signal. I want to read your content. Let me read your content. Ok, maybe an article two.
Great, and then from there, that person is in your email list And you can, so they can continue to view content up to the next level or some other piece of content that they need to be registered or a member for, presumably.
Right, yeah, and that’s sort of back to the paper article thing.
Yeah, i can speak to that market as a person who plays guitar. Occasionally There’s a lot of badly me at tabs online for particular songs, so you can save yourself some time by finding one from someone you knew was likely to be very good, then five bucks is not Not a lot. I imagine to you that there’s likely a video version of it as well. That is a how to play, or if not, then that would be an excellent up salad again from that Do you think you’re.
Yeah, yeah, no, it’s, yeah, i think that’s that’s coming. I mean, people talk about subscription burnout. I yeah.
Yeah, I mean particularly like you see it in software. A few years back, we everything was just a one-off purchase and people assumed that they were gonna get support For that forever. Like well, no, like, this thing costs a lot of money to maintain and bring forward, and I, everything is moved to subscriptions in order to make those things sustainable in the long term. That’s right. Generally, people are furious. I’m okay with it. I’m like, right, it’s fine. But yeah, i mean, i think, yeah, i do see more and more resistance to the subscriptions. But what I think is maybe one of the interesting things is I will judge a company on high Stereforward. They make that unsubscribe process.
You know Well you’ve heard about the regulation that’s they’re trying to be, the having the cancel link be Be visible.
yeah, here’s the cancel link boom.
Next, next screen. Okay, you know why you’re canceling. That’s a good start. Or hey, we have another plan for you and then just offer the other plan and you a percentage of those you will save, instead of having Somebody call you, be super angry or email you and be like why do I have to create this email? And now I have a bad taste in my mouth with this publication. That is going the wrong way?
Absolutely, because most I imagine a whole lot of cancellations are just temporary, of like, i don’t need this right now, but if you make it hard for me to Stop, i’m not coming back. If you make it easy, i will eventually come back and turn my subscription back on in my own, my own time. Yeah, it feels very short-sighted to make these difficult because I just will cancel a credit card.
To get out of a subscription I have to write and I’m not alone there guarantee, yeah well, i mean people have, like I do, i have subscription only credit card, right, i mean I have first and then you can get. You can get virtual credit cards for the people some people use for For subscriptions, like a single subscription and then just yeah.
Yeah, my bank offers per merchant credit card numbers effectively right, one right. That’s awesome to go in and create them, but it’s definitely doable.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. well it’s, everything will get easier. So, though, i think publishers will have to react Appropriately, because it’s not sustainable for them if they’re just people cancel and there’s no, there’s no chance of recovery in that person.
And coming back to, i guess, some more questions. So the groups, that this seems to work or is going to work really well for our niche publishers, who have a very strong audience. He was either part of their work or a hobby or Some other part of how they to write value from the life, and a few dollars For a subscription is not going to be the end of the world for that person. So that signed a by right for who who is where and this on. First and step one is Registrations collect the email addresses, get them into the email list, but make it a real, a real block to you have forced them through the process.
That’s right And they have to get around it. They had, they can’t get around it. They have to register.
Yeah, yeah. So then next step within this whole flow is I Imagine there is some variation here some publishers may want to like segment these audiences into One approach for one group, one approach, failure, but generally getting them into a paid plan, the very lowest cost paid plan that perhaps they They offer. So then yeah, good, sorry, just very, only say the very lowest, as kind of like a this is the The lowest barrier to entry to get you over the line and used to spend the money. Once you’re already spending, it’s easier to move you up a level and obviously have the options for more expensive subscriptions available, but for that, so like, what’s, what’s the next step? one from that for a new publisher who is new to paywalls, what should, what are the next steps for them to like increase that, that revenue from there and you, you subscriber makes kind of depends.
Yeah, it’s so. The funny thing about this business is that every publish, even though publishers produce content And that’s the common thread between all of them the content is different and audiences are different And, of course, publishers have different approaches to their, to their content. So so the variations on additional revenue are Diverse, and publishers have have databases. They want people to pay. We there’s a Swedish news organization that’s killing it with hiding ads just a simple, simple increase in, not a big increase in payment. Well, here’s the data point actually is you have two point. They have two plans monthly regular, which includes ads. Monthly ad free 10. A little over 10% of their readers are choosing the ad free plan and they’re paying 40% more. Right. So for for a local news publisher, that’s, that’s used to advertising and that’s that’s a really great.
Yeah, yeah, i think, crucially, that’s up to the recipient to decide what they want. Oh, and if it is a sports aficionado who wants every tip bit on their team or their league or whatever, it’s up to them to and that’s, that’s a product that is Is serviceable for someone and great, you’ve just find another, another revenue stream. I wonder then if there’s something there as well with the new iOS versions that have these live activities Kind of built into the home screen, if, if this takes us back to the publishers, publisher applications, which have kind of never been great to suddenly actually having a place Where they can look and have this integration on those home pages.
I, i don’t know, i’m not that familiar with with that tech, i haven’t been paying attention to that recently.
Yeah, so Previous aeration of this. They moved to having phones with always on home screens, so they just dealt them out and one of the features that I’m never sure if it was part of that or kind of came later or horror, was like All in the road map and is now on its way to being fully integrated. That was something called live activities And they were very much pitched around Glanceable Information that you want about something that is kind of going on. So the the examples are always like great, there’s a sports Situation happening and you kind of have this little widget on your screen that is like Here’s the score or you’ve ordered something from pooper eats, slash delivery, and I’ll have a little widget that’s Here’s your order progress. It would be feasible, understandable to me, that if you were so inclined and you had a very high volume news sort of situation for a particular niche, that you could do a live activities Glanceable kind of like, so you never even have to like open the phone. It’s just kind of there as part of this.
I mean it’s like how often do you want to be interrupted during the day, or if, or like You want to look at your, you want to look at your phone. I mean, this is sort of behavioral data that I can’t I’m not sure I can even lean in on, but You look at your phone and there’s some activity you’re tracking. I guess that sounds. It sounds like a convenience, like okay, if, if I have the ability to track my Uber Eats, because I’m really into tracking Uber Eats, then that and I can do it without like opening my phone and I’ve saved a couple seconds of time. I’m all for that. I think that you know this is.
I think that’s probably gonna be helpful Down the road. We just have to figure out how to do it and yeah. We have half the world that doesn’t know how to do this stuff, half the world That’s technically savvy, that’ll figure it out. I guess everyone’s ultimately becoming technically. But yeah, shaving time off of the off of any interaction is a win for sure. Yeah, agree with that and interesting.
So just keeping an eye on the time, because we’ve been put on the GoPro.
So just one time.
Yeah, one one kind of last thing before we we close off for organizations with a Paywall of some description, what and I imagine this will be different for every publication of broad strokes What is good to have before the paywall and what is good to have locked up. So obviously we kind of talked a little bit about that leaky side. But I know there are different ways of approaching this of should all new content be Open and then it gets put behind the paywall on archive? Should it be the opposite way around, where Run new content is the most premium, say it’s like actionable market intelligence and then it opens up to the free model Afterwards? should there be some categories on a site that are open and some, potentially, that are behind paywall? I get, i think there’s probably as many different ways of looking at that as there are, yeah, publishers super question.
Yeah, like you said, it depends on the, on the content and the publisher. I’d say, generally speaking, early on, if there’s a startup or you’re kind of early in your content publishing career, you probably need to meter everything. And The benefit of the meter is that the visitor gets to choose what’s important to them. So they come in show, look at your content and they’re constantly surprising publishers by choosing the content They didn’t think was that important. It’s a land-on for whatever reason. They’re just a million reasons. Every visitor’s got a different reason. So I’d say, in general, that’s probably the best operating plan.
Is you meter everything and we have, we have magazine publishers.
That’ll like, they’ll, they’ll meter the magazine articles now and they’ll have the published news. That’s always free, but and and that’s a fair approach. But you want to get that. You want to get that registration on the free side as well. It’s like, and you can set up a free registration that gives you unlimited access to all the news content and then meter the your premium Content for, and that requires payment. But there are publishers that are, you know, have a lot of experience, have a lot of deep, valuable content, like, yeah, like insights content where you you’re, you’re, you’re, like you have enough of an audience already. Your publishing content That’s absolutely deeply worthwhile and requires a subscription. You could do by category or whatever, and so you have, like, your free content, which I recommend include a registration for, and then you have your paid content, which is always paid and always blocked.
It does. That’s a good answer. I think it’s worthwhile and worth looking at as well for anyone out there looking to Track IPs and gets worth doing that you should not store people’s IPs, at least not in your maybe store. I can encrypted hash of them that you can Easily just to mark that off before anyone gets any ideas, that is, get identifiable information. But it is certainly an option with the with paywalls and particularly me during paywalls, we kind of have always approached it on a you’re building the wall. Literally, how high is that wall? There will always be someone who will find a way to jump over that wall, and for building it higher takes exponentially more Resource. So what is the level where you need that wall to sit? and those can be very different things. But anyway, hey, thank you so much for your, your time and your insights that I really really appreciate it. Where can people find out more about you and leaky paywall?
Yeah, well, thanks. Thanks for having me, Stewart. Yeah, leakypaywall.com. That would be the place to go, and if you send an email from there and you want to get in touch, i’ll find it. I’m on LinkedIn. I’m just slash Ericson, er. I see so, and I tend to hang out on LinkedIn a bit, not much elsewhere.
Cool, so leakypaywall.com, LinkedIn.com/Ericson. We’ll put those in show notes. Thank you for listening. If you’ve enjoyed the episode, please leave us a review. Wherever you have got your episode, hit us up on Twitter and LinkedIn. Mastodon as well. We’ll put all the links in the show notes and We will speak to you in two weeks. Thank you very much.