Best of the week: Publishers tell people to pay up

Publishing is in the throes of a backlash, a rejection of the scale model that’s premised on amassing giant audience numbers and then making money off ads. That model has proved to be wanting in a time of spiraling prices for standardized ads — and when so many publishers can boast giant audiences. The theme, already becoming familiar, cropped up in several new ways this week. 

The Wall Street Journal closes a loophole
The most recent shots fired in defense of subscriptions came Monday. Lucia Moses, our senior writer on the media beat, broke the news that
The Wall Street Journal is continuing to tighten its paywall in an effort to hit 3 million subscribers to the Journal and other Dow Jones products.

On Monday the financial broadsheet closed the longstanding loophole that let people get online articles for free through Google after a test resulted in a 86 percent jump in subscriptions.

“A consistent amount of people were avoiding the paywall,” said Suzi Watford, Dow Jones’ chief marketing officer.

Starting last summer, the Journal also has been putting previously free sections including arts and lifestyle behind the paywall. While closing the Google loophole, the Journal has expanded subscriber link-sharing on social media, which has served to increase traffic to the site from social media while providing a perk to subscribers.

Apparently the publisher may be on to something. From a commenter:


The Economist plumbs platforms for more digital subscribers
The Journal isn’t alone. At The Economist, print ad revenues have fallen and digital ad revenues haven’t quite plugged the gap. The focus increasingly has been on increasing profitability by growing — you guessed it — digital subscriptions.

That means The Economist is very clear about what it wants out of platforms: to reach non-subscribers and give them samples of Economist content to eventually turn into more subscribers. Over the year, it has grown social media followers by 25 percent to now reach 44 million across platforms, mostly Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and LinkedIn. It has seen a surge of subscribers, first after Brexit and more recently after Donald Trump’s election. In the last year, digital subs have grown by nearly 14 percent from 303,500 to 345,500. (The Economist’s overall subscription base is 1.5 million.)

“We’re constantly debating how much content to give away,” said Michael Brunt, The Economist’s CMO and managing director of circulation. “If you’re too generous, there’s no point in subscribing. We have the other view: We are generous; we work hard to distribute content on many platforms to give a flavor.”

An autopsy of Scout Media’s demise
One publisher that was never able to turn it around: Scout Media. At the 2015 Cannes Lions, one of the largest yachts bobbing in the harbor belonged to Scout. Aboard the 164-foot boat, La Pellegrina, Scout executives huddled in meetings with ad execs and hosted a huge late-night party with music provided by DJ Scumfrog.

Last week, the sports digital media network was sold for pennies on the dollar, amidst finger-pointing between the board and its founder.

Our publishing reporter Max Willens has a post-mortem on Scout, an autopsy of its flameout. In short, a failure to grow its audience, either on the subscription or the ad-supported side, left it struggling to leave an impression on advertisers. 

No one looks at ads on Snapchat
The platforms aren’t immune to ad woes either.  Snapchat has been promoting its ad products and encouraging marketers to pay to play. But the ad-supported revenue model doesn’t seem to work as well as intended for the platform, at least for now.

New stats from customer acquisition firm Fluent show that 69 percent of American adults online skip ads on Snapchat “always” or “often,” and that number goes up to 80 percent among 18- to 24-year-olds, a target group that many marketers want to reach. Although Fluent doesn’t have ad abandonment rate for other social networks like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, its CMO Jordan Cohen thinks that 69 percent is a “big number for ad-supported companies.

Google’s “header bidding killer” isn’t a header bidding killer
Last April, Google sparked a wave ofheader bidding is deadheadlines after it was revealed by AdExchanger that the company was developing a server-side product. But since then, the marketplace for server-side products has become more competitive and more publishers have continued to adopt header bidding. Sources say they are closely monitoring Google’s next moves, but they are also skeptical of claims that the web giant’s upcoming product means the end of header bidding.

“I doubt [Google’s exchange bidding] will kill header bidding outright, especially now that most of the partners are working on server-to-server solutions,” said Marco Samuel, IBT Media programmatic manager.

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