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Paywall Tech: Does the Publisher Own the Customer?

Incoming leads have been expressing concern about who owns the customer. The publisher? or the Software as a Service (SaaS) technology company (CMS, paywall provider, etc)? We've always made it clear that the publisher owns the customer, and this is stated in our terms of service as well. We thought this was the industry standard, but apparently not.

Some publishers are discovering the hard way that they may have pulled in the customer, served the customer, and communicated with the customer, but in fact the technology company that sits between the publisher and the customer really owns the customer. This is quite disconcerting for content creators, especially those transitioning from the print world where they have had direct relationships with their customers for decades before there was ever a computer.

What does it mean for a publisher to not own their customer? Well that is still somewhat unclear, but here are a couple what if's.

What if a publisher wants to setup a third party ad network on their site? And the ad network would benefit from customer demographics. The publisher goes to their SaaS for the data, and the SaaS has their own ad network, and says "sorry but that is a conflict of interest and we won't release the customer data."

What if a publisher wants to move from their current SaaS paywall and subscription management provider to another? Will their current SaaS provider work to make a seamless behind the scenes transition? Or will they require the publisher to invite all their customers to recreate their accounts on the new platform.

I like to imagine that the SaaS tech companies have the publisher's well-being in mind. If that is the case, then why are they holding the customer hostage in their terms and conditions?

Publishers, check carefully if you in fact do own the rights to the customer, or does the SaaS you are working with have final say. The terms agreement may not be clear on who has final say with the customer. The fine print is sometimes hidden in the termination or cancellation point. There is a danger that lies in what's not said too. Make sure somewhere in the agreement the SaaS company states clearly who owns the rights to the customer. That way you don't have to worry about the What If's.

SaaS Tech companies, stop trying to be the pilot in this area. Let's be great co-pilots by building an excellent conduit through which the publishers can engage with their customers.

Have you had an experience finding out you didn't own your customer? If so, please share in the comments below.

Nick Johnson, CEO & Founder of Sabramedia. At the age of 8 he made his first $100 selling worms to fishermen. Business and commerce development is a way of life. He wrote his first program in BASIC on a Commodore 64 at the age of 10. He is the brainchild of Pigeon Paywall, a SaaS system that helps content creators grow their business in the digital space.

He has been talking with newspaper and digital media professionals around the world since 2009. Nick provides a knowledgeable perspective on web related topics for the newspaper and media industry. Sabramedia makes the Pigeon Paywall Platform and Pigeon Archive service.