It all begins from the time when publishers had metered paywall that gave limited access to free articles and when the limit is over, you are asked to pay for the subscription to continue reading the articles. But to sneak past the paywall, readers found out a way through Chrome’s Incognito Mode – where one could explore and be undetected. When publishers got a whiff of this, they found a way to determine readers were in incognito mode and thus metered paywall continued even in incognito mode. Around Feb 2019, it came out that Google Chrome, the web’s most popular browser was working to prevent sites from doing just that.
Today Google Chrome browser has the highest market share worldwide of 63.34% and now a new version 76 released in late July – has introduced a set of changes in its API implementation, making it difficult for the publishers to detect when there is an incognito mode open in Chrome browser. As an apparently unintended consequence of this “remedy,” 33% of online news outlets, who use a metered paywall, will have their paywalls fully unlocked by a simple right click.
Following are some of the views echoed by different stakeholders.
- “This will affect some publishers who have used the loophole to deter metered paywall circumvention.”
Barb Palser, News and Web Partnerships, Google
- “This is because Incognito Mode temporarily blocks a site’s ability to read or write cookies on your device, making it impossible for a publisher to know if you are a paying subscriber or if you have passed your monthly quota of free articles,” says Ravie Lakshmanan, Author at The Next Web.
- “According to Chrome developer Paul Irish, “from now on codes that attempt to detect incognito mode will be rendered useless, thereby making it possible to bypass soft paywalls.”
This is going to hit a third of US and European digital news publishers and the impact is going to be pretty massive. But Google has also explained how it is going to impact publishers, asking them to first monitor the effect of the API changes before taking any reactive measures. Because this could lead to a major change in reader behavior. Looking at the current scenario, either this can be handled by introducing Free Registration or by implementing Hard Paywall.
“As paywalls are becoming more frequent, we will absolutely see more paywall blockers,” Robin Govik, Chief Digital Officer at Swedish media group MittMedia, told Digiday. “It’s a truth, at least in military science, that every measure will meet a countermeasure.”
But all is not lost for the publishers as the situation may seem to be. The right way to deal with this is to be pragmatic and see this as a push to come up with more creative ways to deliver content to your audience without subjecting them to a rigorous onboarding process.
“Ask your customers to be part of the solution, and don’t view them as part of the problem.”
— Alan Weiss, Author, Million Dollar Consulting
Let’s look at the numbers — only a minority of people currently pay for online news/content. According to RIDN report, About 16% of the US readers have subscribed to online content or accessed a paid for online content service in 2018–19. Most digital news/content media operating a metered paywall find that 2–5% of their free readership will convert to paid subscriptions. Everyone is discussing this new change and wondering what to do next.
If you look at the bright side, it comes across as an opportunity. To look closely at their paywall strategy, visualize with a brand new perspective and align it in a way that resonates with the user behavior and the core technology & web fundamentals as a whole.
As Pamela Nelson, President / CEO, Bracane Research Company, has rightly said, “The customer tells us how to stay in business, best that we listen.”
With this in mind, here are three specific strategies to consider if you are a publisher with a metered paywall in place.
Manage access differently
Free for Free, Premium for Paid
“I applaud everyone for finding a way around [the paywall],” Claudius Senst, head of consumer subscriptions at Business Insider, said in a recent AdAge article. “They’re getting teased in, and the goal is to get them signed up.”
Senst has no reason to worry because Business Insider does not use a meter at all. They have premium content that is only available to its members. Publishers can adapt the Freemium Model — some content is always available for free, while some are only available to subscribers. This ensures the content is kept safe. There is a benefit in keeping some content exclusively for subscribers in metered paywall, creating more value to subscribers. It increases opportunities to prompt users to subscribe.
Google, in its blog, has advocated about the effectiveness of registration driven content usage. This strategy allows publishers to share the free content with their audience at the cost of their email ids. This enables them to push the prospective customer further down the sales funnel. At a later stage, you can reach out to them and pitch the benefits of a paid membership.
Google has taken this step in the spirit of true incognito mode and as a consequence has affected the business models of publishers. However, instead of getting overwhelmed by this development the publishers can leverage it to devise creative marketing strategies (which are independent of Chrome or any third party platform) that can entice the audience to sign up for a paid content membership. This will insulate them from getting affected by such drastic changes that are beyond their control.