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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.

Setting up a metered paywall III: Time period

Jan 26, 2016

This is the third part of a three part series by Piano Lead Data Scientist Roman Gavuliak that was posted earlier on Piano Media’s blog.

Setting up a metered paywall I: Estimation
Setting up a metered paywall II:Data Sources
To read all of Roman’s articles please click here.

Another question we frequently are asked is, what time frame is best for my meter? For the sake of convenience consider both a weekly and a monthly limit. Data reveals that most web page visitors generally consume more content on a weekly basis than they do on a cumulative monthly basis. This means a stricter weekly limit might impact more (even less regular) readers. The weekly limit also runs a lower risk of losing visitors because free article counts are refreshed every 7 days. On the other hand, the monthly limit imposes more pressure on users because if they deplete their limit too quickly, the waiting time to reset their meter is much longer.

The following summarizes the pros and cons of both limits:

+ More users might hit the paywall if the limit is set correctly
+ Lowers risk of losing users due to a shorter waiting time
+ More flexible, can be adjusted in shorter intervals
Weekends account for over 28% of all days within the limit
Irregular users are less affected
+ Higher pressure for purchase due to a longer waiting time for the meter limit to refresh

As shown, any advantage can also become a disadvantage based on how the limit is set. A metered paywall might seem as one of the easier options (besides hard locking all content) but it needs careful thought. When setting meter limits you should listen to the data rather than to your heart.

With a weekly meter limit, even users that only use up their free articles and leave the site after encountering a request for payment, generate on average many more page views because they read up to their weekly limit. The following chart shows three examples of the average number of paywall hits for users that never paid for two monthly and one weekly titles during a one month period.

meter limits

To make matters more complicated, there are several issues that haven’t been touched yet (the list is non-exhaustive):

* How will the conversion rate change after the first month or week? Will it ever stabilize?
* How does the price of a subscription affect the conversion rate? What is a reasonable price for a
subscription? How do I bundle my online and print edition?* How will users adjust their behaviour to the paywall over time? Will I have to adjust the limit?
* What is the ideal limit

Do questions like these keep you up at night? Get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to tell you more.

Piano’s Industry Insights: How Will Google’s AMP Affect the Industry?

Jan 21, 2016
Industry trends

As Google gets set to launch the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project next month, publishers are increasingly focusing on page load speed. Those who implement AMP will see a boost in search traffic from Google because their algorithm takes into account load speed when returning search results and those with AMP will load faster than those without. Google is also working with various companies to make sure that AMP pages will properly monetize, something that neither Facebook nor Apple’s walled gardens support. Piano is working with Google to spec out paywall integration with AMP.

Read more about what publishers are discovering  in this week’s Industry Insights, available now!

Industry Insights: 2015, Almost a Wrap

Dec 10, 2015
Industry trends

As 2015 barrels towards history, conclusions are being drawn by pundits regarding what’s happened in the industry this year and their projections about what the future holds. Ad blocking dominated headlines, thinking, panels, conferences and will, no doubt, continue to receive attention in 2016. The realization that the advertising supported model may not be sustainable going forward has generated a lot of interest in viable alternatives; paywalls and membership programs, to name the two most prominent. Publishers who are mixing and matching revenue models are gaining new momentum while those who do nothing are closing in upon, like 2015, an inevitable demise.

Read more about what publishers are discovering  in Piano’s Industry Insights, available now!


Industry Insights: Quality Content Sells!

Nov 26, 2015
Industry trends