Part 2 in a series, How To Setup Paid Subscriptions For Media Organizations, explains what to look for in a third-party paywall and subscription management vendor.
In-house Versus Third Party Paywall
One of the first questions larger content publisher asks themselves, "Why bother with a third party? We'll just have our web development team build it." On the surface the paywall concept may seem simple, but in reality the opposite is true.
This question deserves more time than I will give it here. In short, the complexities of a robust and complete solution are numerous. With exception to the very large publishing houses (NYT, WSJ, etc.) going in-house would prove more than just time and money costly. It would be a distraction from your core business, creating and publishing content.
Paying-subscribers are a mission critical part of a paid content business model. The third party software vendor and their tools should recognize this importance. What are some things you should look for in a paywall vendor?
Do they provide features that fit your needs?
Sometimes it's hard to identify what features you will need as digital content publisher. The following list describes features to consider when investigating a paywall and subscription management vendor.
- Direct CMS Integration - The plugin adds interface controls throughout the CMS.
- Indirect CMS Integration - The plugin works with the CMS, but content access is managed by the vendor or in their interface.
- Metered method - Ability to determine how many pages are availble for a set period of time before the wall comes up.
- Time-limited access - E.g., content is walled for two days then made free, or vice versa.
- IP level access - Libraries, schools, and corporations can be given special access based on their IP address or IP range.
- Plugin implementation - Server-side or browser-side (what's the difference?)
- API access - For the Indirect Integration (mentioned above) this gives developers granular control of content through the client-side plugin.
Subscription and Sales Funnel Features
- Recurring subscriptions - monthly, quarterly, annually, etc.
- Trial subscriptions - E.g., two weeks free before subscription starts
- Temporary passes - E.g., one day pass or access to publisher content for short periods
- Current print subscriptions - A process or subscription type that makes integrating current print subscribers online easy.
- Domain restricted subscriptions - A corporate account can pre-purchase access for all their employees who have a company email. Only employees with the allowed email domain can register.
- Single article purchase - Give individuals the ability to purchase credits that they can use on a per article basis.
- Direct payment gateway support - Subscription flow is not interrupted when requesting payment method.
- Indirect or third party payment processor - Subscribers are rerouted to a third part payment processor then routed back to publisher's site after the payment has been setup.
- A/B testing - Support subscription or promotional split testing to determine what works best in your market.
- Subscription audit and reports
- API - Push or pull subscription related settings or data.
Subscriber Management and Engagement
- Subscriber discovery - Easy-to-use interface for searching and getting to that subscriber.
- Update payment method
- Refund transaction
- Change subscription type
- Automated notifications - welcome, receipt, card expiring, payment failure
- Notification tracking - When automated e-notices go out and are opened.
- Mange group accounts and their members
- Subscriber audit and reports
- API - push or pull subscription related settings, data, or authentication
- Subscriber Concentration Map - Show a visual map placement of subscriber concentration (good for targeted adverstising, carrier route building, etc.)
What's their cut?
Developing and supporting this kind of platform requires significant personnel and intellectual investment. Your fees are typically subscriber-based. There could be a set fee per subscriber, a percent of the subscription revenue, or a monthly access fee scaled based on usage. Or it could be a combination of these. Some vendors will put the fee structure on their website, others will send it to you after you connect with them. Make sure these fees are clearly communicated and in writing.
How well do they communicate?
Look for early signs of stability and communication. Is the vendor responsive? Do they seem too busy? Do they go the extra mile? Does the vendor provide the software and leave you to it? Or are they more hands on and supportive?
Choosing a paywall vendor is something you want to avoid doing again. So make sure you are completely comfortable with your choice, and that you like the people. You will be spending a good bit of time with them.
It's your turn to weigh in. This list contains much of what we've seen out there. What features are you looking for? What questions are you asking vendors. Contact us or comment below and your feedback could make it into the lists above. We'll make sure you get credit.
In the next article we will list the paywall and subscription management vendors to choose from. The market is fairly young, so there are a lot of players. Then next few years will be interesting as paid content matures.