Discover the secrets of monetising your readership and mastering paywall strategy with our special guest, Peter Ericson, founder and CEO of ZEEN101, the makers of Leaky Paywall for WordPress. Peter shares the fascinating story of how Leaky Paywall was developed to help universities publish content online and how it has evolved into an essential tool for publishers to control content access and profits.
Pete spoke about his journey with “Leaky Paywall”. He began a web development agency in 1998 and about 14 years prior to the interview, Dartmouth College hired them to move their engineer magazine online as web-based articles on WordPress.
Stewart raised the topic of the marketing funnel, which leads from unknown visitors to email subscribers, paid subscribers, and further upsells or tier advancements.
Pete reminisced about the pre-digital era where publishers excelled in marketing. They had shared databases of mailing addresses covering over 90% of US households. He cited the “lift card” method where a subscription card drops out of a magazine, forcing the reader to engage with it.
Pete attended a niche media conference where he noticed most magazine publishers were not interested in digital subscriptions. Instead, they aimed to grow their audience primarily to serve advertisers.
Both acknowledged the shift in many industries, including media and software, towards a subscription model. Pete emphasized the importance of good user experience, including a seamless signup process.
They discussed the challenges and annoyances of unsubscribing from services. Stewart mentioned he would judge a company based on how straightforward they make the unsubscribe process.
Both recognized a trend where some consumers use specialized credit cards or virtual card numbers exclusively for subscriptions to make management or cancellation easier.
The discussion revolved around the evolution of subscriptions, marketing strategies of the past and present, and the importance of providing a good user experience.
Stewart talks about the effectiveness of paywalls for niche publishers with a strong audience. He emphasizes the importance of initial registration to collect email addresses.
Pete agrees that registration is essential and publishers must make it unavoidable.
He points out that while content is the commonality among publishers, the content types, audiences, and approaches differ.
Pete mentions a Swedish news organization that offers two plans: a regular monthly plan with ads and an ad-free plan that costs 40% more. 10% of their readers chose the ad-free plan.
Stewart discusses the potential of integrating “live activities” (Ex: real-time SMS updates via Subtext), which could provide glanceable, real-time information to users without needing to open apps.
Stewart asks Pete about the best strategies for content placement concerning paywalls, i.e., what should be free vs. what should be behind the paywall.
Pete suggests that for newer publishers, metering everything might be the best approach. He recommends offering some content for free with registration and putting premium content behind a paywall. Pete emphasizes that the approach varies based on the publisher’s content and audience.
For the complete audio podcast, visit the Paywall Podcast.