Paywalls need innovation too

As both an ex-reporter and unreformed news junkie, there are a couple features I wish publishers would add to the digital subscriptions they've increasingly staked their future upon:

  • Give paid subscribers an ad-free version of the product. I enjoy this as a feature on a lot of subscription-based software, including entertainment services like Pandora and YouTube Premium, but never with digital news. Why? As it is, publishers seem bent on making a sales pitch appealing to people's altruism: "Subscribe because it will support the social good our journalism accomplishes." While this claim is strictly true, to be sure, it would probably do more to increase actual sales if they appealed to people's transactional lizard brains. Taking ads out to improve the user experience in return for people's cold, hard cash accomplishes that.
  • Accept crypto payments as an option alongside more traditional methods. In addition to winning some cool points, this would effectively open marketing opportunities to an untapped, younger demographic of potential subscribers who are early crypto adopters. Some might even subscribe to make a statement about the viability of their favorite cryptocurrency as a commerce tool, not just to support the publication. Call it a "wag the dog" effect, if you will. As a bonus, crypto payments would also establish sales relationships with customers outside the payment ecosystems of Apple, Facebook, and other corporate tech Death Stars that the industry ultimately needs independence from anyway.

Honestly, I'm skeptical of claims that paywalls will ever be a panacea for publishers' economic woes, especially among local press. But it's undeniable at this point that they can work for some organizations if implemented correctly.

That implementation should include pushing the boundaries of previous work that's been done and adding features over time, just like in any other area of tech. Otherwise, if publishers just treat paywalls like a golden goose to wring money out of, without innovating, they'll end up right back where they started.


Header image by Elijah O'Donnell via Unsplash.

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