Publishers have recently responded with frustration to Google’s changes to Chrome’s incognito mode that have made redundant many of their metered paywall systems.
What Google have done with incognito mode is outrageous for sure. It’s overbearing and arrogant. And it is frustrating that the work, time and effort that publishers have put in to create these systems has been wiped out with barely two weeks’ notice from Google. But is the business model they’re accused of destroying, metered paywalls, really the right one for the media anyway?
Media - news in particular - is characterised by frequent, casual consumption by lots of people. People form habits around certain brands, which drive repeat visits and commitment. Metered paywalls risk punishing people who engage too deeply by locking them out and preventing habits forming.
Of course metered paywalls solve a different problem - how can readers sample your product if it's behind a hard paywall? They'll never subscribe if they can't. But looked at from the point of view of a consumer, metered paywalls were always frustrating.
The fact that they're also so easy to work around and for Google to demolish undermines them further. Rather than a reminder for publishers not to trust Google, it should serve as a reminder to everyone that a better model is needed in the first place - not a perpetuation of a model which was never great.
A better model is one which rewards readers’ engagement by giving them better value for money and encourages habitual return visits instead of demanding that they subscribe - because most of them won't.
A better payment model is one which reflects the casual, uncommitted nature of peoples' actual behaviour, which allows them to roam freely between media brands as they like instead of demanding ongoing payments to each. Most people don’t have the means or motivation to pay for multiple subscriptions, but are willing to pay for their news - if they’re offered the right price.
A better model for the industry is one where "user acquisition" and payment are as casual as browsing, and one in which more engagement from users leads to better revenues; one where the product is the key to success above all else.
It is to address this opportunity (and to fix these dysfunctions) that we built Axate. And it’s not just an idea; it’s a working product which is rolling out across more and more sites.
One thing Google's behaviour does is remind publishers to take control of their destiny. Any publisher who contorts their product and business model to fit the needs of the environment, at the expense of their consumers (and their revenues), needs to focus on improving the environment, not contorting still further. Axate gives publishers the opportunity to do just that.