The Wall Street Journal, one of the first major publications to institute a soft “metered” paywall, is still charging ahead as a leader in paywall AI. How? They’re using AI to determine how many free articles a reader should get before being required to pay the subscription fee — among other things.
But before we get into why this is brilliant (and why you should use AI for your paywall, too), let’s review the history of the paywall to understand how we arrived here.
Paywalls and User Behavior: A History
Since the inception of the paywall, online publications have struggled to find a balance between satisfying new readership and earning a profit.
A paywall is a means for publishers to restrict access to content until a payment is made. There are three main types of paywalls including a hard paywall, soft paywall also referred to as “metered” and a third method combining both hard and soft methodologies. A hard paywall bars access to all online content until the user makes a payment, while a soft paywall (also called a metered paywall) allows readers to view a certain number of articles for free before requiring a purchase. The third methodology combines both soft and hard strategies by allowing access to content for free but requiring payment for more sought after content perceived as higher quality.
One of the main challenges with these paywall models is matching content to the proper reader intent. In other words, it doesn’t make sense to display a paywall to a brand new reader who has neither the funds nor the brand loyalty to pay for a subscription — this only drives potential audiences away. The reverse is true, as well. Why offer your content for free to readers who intend to consume your content for years, and who also have the money to afford it?
That’s why choosing the proper paywall structure for your online media stems from understanding your readers intent. You can measure intent, in part, by measuring a person ’s recency, frequency, and depth of article consumption on your digital properties. But if you’re studying intent using slapdash or manual methods, this becomes nearly impossible to do at scale.
This is where AI shines.
What AI Can Do for Your Paywall to Improve Your Newsletter Subscription Rates
Here are the main things artificial intelligence can do to grow your readership and, ultimately, your number of subscriptions:
Displaying a unique array of content for each reader.
AI can identify which content is most likely to resonate with an individual reader, and display that content to new site visitors to draw them in. It’s like a tailor-made experience for each reader who stumbles upon your site, which enhances user experience while also moving readers down your sales funnel (and into that coveted role of paying subscriber).
AI for content personalization can do far more than attract new readers: it’s a powerful customer nurture tool, as well. It can encourage existing readers to go deeper into your other content types and channels, strengthening the brand loyalty that keeps them subscribing year-over-year.
Determining the ideal quantity of content.
Some readers may be ready to subscribe after reading one article — while others may require a lot more TLC before they’re ready to commit. Paywall AI can automatically adjust, up or down, the number of freebies a reader gets before being prompted to sign up. Colder prospects get a better taste of what your content has to offer, warmer ones will start paying for content sooner, and your subscription and retention numbers will soar.
Displaying the paywall only for those who’ll pay.
The most advanced subscription companies are acquiring audience utilizing AI for “audience shaping”. Or shaping the type of audience to their content that ultimately has a high propensity to consume the content and ultimately pay for it.
In essence, by offering articles for free to an affluent readership, you’re saying that your content isn’t of a high enough quality to merit charging a fee — which may cause those readers to look elsewhere. AI can display the paywall selectively to address both of these scenarios and maintain the perceived value of what you’re offering.
Matching the site experience to your reader’s stage in the content marketing funnel.
Every reader who visits your digital publication is in a different state of readiness to buy. One may be a new reader who’s jumping onto your site two or three times a day, eager to consume a little bit of everything. Another may be a “cooler” customer, who reads a couple of articles per month but isn’t quite ready to subscribe and receive email updates. This intent that your reader illustrates is essential for developing audiences to reach with ads on Social Media which is a very manual process that can be automated with AI-Powered Audiences.
Each journey needs to be treated differently, and True Anthem Paid AI can help you reach these readers with 1:1 communication personalized for them. From there, True Anthem Paid AI can determine both the ideal type of paywall (soft or hard), and when to display it, for the greatest chance of landing a new subscriber to your content.