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Lessons in paid content III: Don’t just slap a meter on it

Feb 16, 2016

This is another in a series of articles from Piano’s Lead Data Scientist Roman Gavuliak that were written last year and are being re-posted here for the edification of our faithful readers.

Lessons in Paid Content I: Not all content is created equal
Lessons in Paid Content II: The size of your audience
To read all of Roman’s articles please click here.

Our last post looked at the size of a target audience for a typical publishing site with 2 million monthly unique users as reported by Google Analytics. After accounting for Google’s user overestimation and users that only skim headlines, there were between 0.5M – 0.7M monthly readers left. Now, assume the example publisher’s online team decides to implement a meter limit of 10 articles per month; one that mirrors the current New York Times limit. What follows is the monthly content consumption for users in our example (based on similar real newspapers):

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The graph shows that the share of users reading more than 10 articles (10+ category) is below 10%. This is not uncommon for many titles and means a metered paywall with a setting of 10 free articles per month affects (building on the example) between 40k – 60k users, users who can be effectively monetized. This doesn’t mean a metered paywall makes no sense, it means there must be realistic expectations about its impact.

This curve allows for optimizing paywall impact, regrettably it lacks a sweet spot where there is an optimal trade-off between pageview and user impact. However, the sweet spot doesn’t exist because article pageviews follow roughly a 80/20 rule (80% of article pageviews are done by 20% of users) and, changes impacting pageviews are really much smaller when compared to changes in terms of affected audience. Therefore there is an inherent risk associated with implementing a metered paywall with any setting.

However, there is a big upside – a more aggressive approach brings more opportunity. To wit: numbers from metered paywall estimation are presented in the following table:

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 10.36.26
The conclusion here is: don’t be scared!

The percentage of affected pageviews is only on articles. A metered paywall leaves homepages and section fronts freely accessible. The resulting percentage loss of pageviews from all pageviews is lower and decreases further based on the conversion rate (since the pageviews of paying users are retained and might even grow as these users now attribute a monetary value to the content they read).

Back to the example; lowering the meter setting from 10 to 4 free articles per month means increasing the absolute percentage pageview loss risk by 5.6% while almost doubling the absolute share of users affected (on all users reading articles). Keep in mind too, that people reading over 10 articles per month are more likely to pay than those reading only five articles per month.

So what is the takeaway here? Ten free articles per month might sound like a nice round number and it works for New York Times; but while user distribution is based on their reading level and follows a similar mathematical function, it differs in parameters. These differences are illustrated in the graph below. One daily Estonian title has roughly 1M monthly unique visitors while a Slovak daily has 2M monthly visits and two German titles have 1.9M and 2.7M respectively.


Despite having the smallest audience, a limit of 10 free articles a month would impact the greatest share of users at the Estonian daily newspaper.

A metered paywall then, is not about the size of your site, but about understanding your audience and putting this knowledge into action.

Piano Sponsors first-ever Slovak MeasureCamp

Feb 12, 2016

MeasureCamp, to those in the know, is an “unconference” dedicated to data and analytics and has a worldwide following. Piano’s Lead Data Scientist Roman Gavuliak helped bring MeasureCamp to the Slovak Capital, Bratislava, last week so the burgeoning community of data analysts and scientists plus developers who rely data, could get together and share their experiences with each other and other interested parties.

All MeasureCamps start out chaotically as organizers and participants agree on a program, find rooms and kick off sessions. Piano wasn’t the only sponsor, Google and Telekom sponsored sessions as well. Many local Slovak marketing agencies and product developers from the best online dev shops shared their lessons learned, tools and processes and best practices. Roman led a session on various data sources and alternatives to the ubiquitous Google Analytics.

At the end of the day, when all the 30 minute sessions had expired, the Afterparty got swinging and, as those who are familiar with Slovak party habits, it wasn’t over until the wee hours of the morning.

MeasureCamp was a huge success and Piano was proud to sponsor this initial effort. The sessions were great for enlightening local developers, analysts, data scientists and will naturally contribute to improving the quality and utilization of data for software companies worldwide.

Since Piano is so heavily involved in big data and analytics, we were super excited to see the interest generated by the “unconference” and hope that there will be more Slovak MeasureCamps in the future.

You can read more on the Bratislava’s MeasureCamp Facebook page.


Lessons in paid content II: The size of your audience

Feb 09, 2016

This is another in a series of articles from Piano’s Lead Data Scientist Roman Gavuliak that were written last year and are being re-posted here for the edification of our faithful readers.

Lessons in Paid Content I: Not all content is created equal
Lessons in Paid Content III: Don’t just slap a meter on it
To read all of Roman’s articles please click here.

If you ever look at your Google Analytics or get a report from a colleague, you might be familiar with the number of monthly unique users your title has. If you decide to monetize content on your site with something other than just plain old advertising, you might wonder how many users a paywall would reach. While there are users who pay for the convenience of never having to encounter a paywall, most people will have to be prompted to pay.

Imagine then your Google Analytics shows 2M monthly unique visitors; how many of them can you monetize? First though, factor in Google’s routine overestimation of unique visitors. Why? Because Google Analytics is oriented around visits and cookies for unique user identification, they do not identify unique browsers. Google isn’t really telling you the truth about unique users visiting your site because one user can visit on a variety of different browsers or devices. What this really means is Google Analytics is overestimating site visitors by up to 50%! Here’s an illustration:

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 10.00.52
After correcting this overestimation, there are still at least 1M unique visitors, which is not that bad, right? Naturally it seems perfectly logical that for paid content to work, only those users who actually read articles are going to pay, right? No surprises here, but – make sure you are sitting down and take a deep breath because here it comes:

For most media, at least 50% of their users do not read any articles weekly or monthly! Keep reading

Algorithms, automated content optimisation are key to publisher competitiveness

Feb 08, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 12.04.29

Chuck Blevins, the manager of new platform development and technology for the audience department at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in Atlanta writes about the importance of hitting your audience at the right time with the right content. Piano VX software has an algorithmic paywall function that helps monetize your most popular content at the right time, turning users into subscribers. Get in touch with us if you want to learn more:

Continue reading…

Lessons in paid content I: Not all content is created equal

Feb 02, 2016

We continue to repost articles from Piano’s Lead Data Scientist Roman Gavuliak that were written last year and are being re-posted here for the edification of our faithful readers.

Lessons in Paid Content II: The size of your audience
Lessons in Paid Content III: Don’t just slap a meter on it
To read all of Roman’s articles please click here.

I have recently (2014) had the opportunity to give a “Lessons in paid content” talk for Piano. The point of the presentation was to show publishers how they might think about paid content models based on our experience illustrated by graphs and numbers. This blogpost series will explain different points from the presentation. We hope it will make you think about the content on your site in a different way.

Let me first give a little background on where these lessons come from. Piano has implemented 80+ paywall and the number of analyses we have done has climbed to almost 120. This unique learning experience has allowed us to create benchmarks tailored specifically for paid content. Each analysis uses three main sources of data and information:

– Access to Google Analytics or its equivalents (such as SiteCatalyst)
– Our own data collection through a tool called Piano Bar
– Interviews with the staff responsible for online content

The first two sources allow for a quantitative perspective, yet we believe that not every notion is always reflected by the data and a qualitative aspect is necessary as well, so we have been asking a lot of questions. Naturally the publishers do too. Here are their  three most common questions:

– Is there someone like me?
– I have 2M uniques, how much money can I make?
– Will users pay for my content?

The core components of every online title are people and content and their interactions. While this may seem like the most obvious thing, it is always worth mentioning, since the online publishing seems to have a dependence on advertising and the industry has  become overly focused on pageviews. So here’s something else to think about:

“What do I need to know about my users and content in order to monetize effectively?”

We hope that by the end of this blog post series, these questions will be answered, but perhaps more will arise.


No site is made up of homogeneous content, they all contain different kinds of different content categorized in different ways. Think about it as sections for instance, sports, news, business, entertainment. Another way to segment the site might be based upon content format – video, audio, slideshow or simple articles.The most obvious way to compare the different content categories is through traffic volumes. By looking only at this though, a lot of other relevant dimensions get missed including perhaps, the most crucial, user loyalty. Illustrated through numbers the graph below represents a sample of 50 sections from a German daily newspaper. They are ordered by their traffic (blue line, primary y-axis), on the left are the sections with the highest traffic, to the right, lowest traffic. The red line represents the volume of loyal users in these sections (ranked by a secondary Y-axis).

visitors vs. pageviews graph

visitors vs. pageviews graph

While there is a relationship between the number of unique users and the size of the loyal audience, there is certainly a great variation in this relationship. When looking at the two highlighted sections, the first section has twice the volume of unique visitors but almost four  times fewer loyal visitors. Section 2 is a more niche than Section 1 and subsequently may not be a good choice for locking. Section 1 is similar to an article that was shared on Facebook and attracted a lot of one-time visitors over a longer time period.

Not all content is created equal – use that knowledge to your advantage when monetizing it. Identifying sections that have low potential in terms of loyal visitors yet account for a substantial volume of page views can let you fine tune your paywall in terms of user impact and reducing risk of pageview loss.