Publishers Can Do Good by Doing Well: Collect Emails as You Drop Paywalls
We are in the midst of a national crisis, and once again, as crisis hits, the American public and its advertisers remember the service that true journalism plays in our society.
Attention and eyeballs go to the legitimate publishers who have invested so much in talent and infrastructure that allows them to do original and researched reporting, as opposed to aggregating other news sites or relying on user-generated content. Publishers are seeing a marked increase in engagement with their readers, because readers are going to trusted sources to get news.
The journalistic institutions are pillars of society and believe in giving back, and that is evident as major publishers temporarily drop paywalls in order to pursue the public good of reporting on coronavirus without impediment. It’s a public service they’re providing, but to offer that reportage while asking nothing at all in return is short-sighted. Publishers have, at their fingertips, a simple ask they can make of readers that is non-intrusive and will help build the asset that will secure their future: an email address.
Learning from the Past: Value Exchange to Combat Ad-Blocking
During the heyday of ad-blocking, if the Washington Post saw a reader using an ad-blocker, they would cut off access to the reader unless the reader submitted an email address. Why? Because the value of an email address to a forward-looking publisher is so much more valuable than simple short-term revenue, and there are few publishers more forward-looking than the Bezos-backed Washington Post.
What did the Washington Post know to push them to embrace forgoing the ephemeral ad impression for an email address? Well, for one, even in 2015, they knew that targeting people was more important than targeting a device, and an email address was already rearing up to being the key to identity and marketing to people in a mobile-first world.
Of course, the major browsers hadn’t yet arrived on any policies to phase out the third-party cookie, but even without formalized policies, the Washington Post, like the best marketers, knew the folly of relying solely on the third-party cookie.
The third-party cookie never worked as well as the industry liked to believe. Third-party data was used to measure the performance of first-party inventory, and attribution was biased towards a last-click model that benefited the triopoly of Amazon, Facebook, and Google. The third-party cookie never really worked with a society adopting mobile as a way of life, and the Washington Post knew that.
While the Washington Post may not be a traditional marketer, they still obviously have something to sell: subscriptions. And, over the past year, publishers have rediscovered the importance of selling of subscriptions and embraced it as a path to controlling their destinies.
Email Is the Key to Identity for Publishers
What publishers have discovered is that the email address, and its verification and authentication by their deployment in email newsletters, both represents the key data point and the key interaction for driving subscriptions. The insights mined from the exhaust of the email newsletter is the backbone of dynamic paywall strategy.
Think about the idea behind a dynamic paywall strategy: Essentially, you are trying to nurture a subscription from a reader by giving them just enough content that they understand the value of your publications, and understand what they lose by not paying for it. The newsletter is the bridge to this funnel. The newsletter lets publishers nurture customers, and determine who needs to be nurtured, and who needs the spigot cut off.
Someone who rarely opens a newsletter won’t respond positively when their rare attempts to visit a news site are stymied by a paywall. It hurts the case for a subscription. Perhaps a person who regularly reads 11 articles per month on a publication’s site would feel the pinch from a six-article limit. Having the interaction between email and site is the key to driving dynamic paywalls so that, when the crisis lifts, publishers can use that data to drive subscriptions to those most likely to subscribe.
In order to properly administer a dynamic paywall, a publisher needs to understand its relationship with each potential subscriber. This approximation is primarily made by analyzing and making decisions based on first-party data. Someone who rarely opens a newsletter won’t respond positively that their rare attempts to visit a news site be stymied by a paywall. It hurts the case for a subscription. But perhaps a person who regularly reads nine articles per month on a publication’s site would feel the pinch with the faucet being cut off at four articles.
But in a world of proliferating devices, the ability to tie that first-party data to a person and not just a device requires an email address, which cuts to the heart of identity.
Additionally, that email address has a lot of value in a world where the cookie is going away, another long-term challenge for publishers. The email addressed can be used, through identity solutions offered by advertising and marketing backend technology, to drive up the value of advertising well outside of the email channel. Using identity solutions fortified by the email address, publishers can drive yield. Header bidding understands the value of online inventory better with the proper bridging to the ecosystem built, and the email address can act as the foundation for building that bridge.
The point is that during these weeks and months where publishers are performing a public good by opening up their coverage to the public and dropping paywalls, they can help themselves by getting the simple asset of the email address as part of that transaction. This lets publishers invest in their own walled garden and their own properties, instead of handing over their best material to others.
Brian joined LiveIntent last year from Yahoo!, where he was VP, Ad Platforms for the Americas followed by VP, Global Business Planning and Operations, Communication Products. After Yahoo’s acquisition by Verizon, he served as VP Global Revenue Operations, helping all owned and operated properties maximize yield by balancing user experience and monetization. Prior to Yahoo!, he was President and CEO for Travel Ad Network (now Travora Media), COO for both Did-it Search Marketing and NetCash, and VP of Operations for IAC Advertising.