Media Pitch: Pico Aims to Help Publishers Shift to Reader Revenue
Media companies are increasingly turning to subscriptions and membership products to rely more on readers and less on advertising revenue. And with ever-tightening browser privacy controls and data regulation, publishers' first-party data is becoming more valuable than ever.
Enter Pico, a platform seeking to equip publishers with the tools to improve user experience, increase email signups, and move readers through the sales funnel using first-party data. The startup, founded by childhood friends and Stanford grads Jason Bade and Nick Chen, recently raised $4.5 million in a funding round led by Stripe and Precursor Ventures.
Below, Pico co-founder and president Jason Bade explains how their software is designed to help digital publishers manage audience relationships and convert readers into paying subscribers.
What is your technology and how does it work?
Pico offers smart pop-ups and landing pages that allow you to manage email signups for newsletters and charge your readers via subscription paywalls, paid newsletters, memberships, or donations. And since everything we do is first-party, we’re able to help publishers understand how readers at an individual level are engaged on site, such as how frequently they visit and which content categories they read most.
What problem are you solving or opportunity are you enabling for publishers?
We focus on two conversion points: turning anonymous users into email signups (the beginning of your audience “sales funnel”), and getting readers to pay. Everything we do is dedicated to product design that optimizes for these moments and makes life as easy and resource-inexpensive as possible for publishers transitioning to a “reader revenue” business model.
How did you come up with this idea?
As the media industry began to shift toward reader revenue, we saw that publishers were missing the key customer software tools that have long helped e-commerce companies serve their audience of shoppers. For example, Mailchimp does a great job managing newsletter lists and integrating with e-commerce infrastructure, but it’s not the right CRM for media businesses. Meanwhile, paywall plugins have largely focused on payment processing and not on providing growth-oriented tools like a CRM. And Salesforce requires far too many resources to customize for an audience business. That’s why we decided to build an audience CRM, or as we like to call it, an ARM (audience relationship management) platform: it’s one system that vertically integrates email signups, on-site analytics, and payments.
What makes your software unique and innovative?
We built Pico to serve not just as another payment processing tool, but rather, as an all-in-one solution for the next generation of journalists and creatives. By connecting email signups, engagement data, and payment conversion into one unified system, we aim to reduce the overhead of growing a media business and empower small teams to make a big impact.
How does your tech solution reflect changes underway in the media world?
The shift toward reader revenue has been in progress for a number of years now, as the economics of advertising have increasingly favored search and social platforms. But this shift away from advertising has accelerated recently with additional pressure from governments and browsers cracking down on third-party tracking. This means that you now really need your audience to log in with first-party tools if you want to know what’s going on. It’s also the most ethical way to understand your audience, as it’s a relationship built on consent. It’s no surprise that some of our biggest customers use Pico just for our email signups and engagement data, and I think that’s going to be a big trend going forward.
Leah Wynalek is the senior editor for Publishing Executive and Book Business. She has worked at national magazine publishing companies including Trusted Media Brands and Rodale, where she assisted in digital content creation and strategy for Prevention.com. More recently, she used her multimedia skillset on behalf of clients as a content specialist for Philadelphia-based marketing agency En Route.