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Here's a question most publishers would love to have an answer to: what's the secret to building a successful pay wall?

Although one might expect major publishers like the New York Times to eventually provide the answer, newspapers in Slovakia may have beat their Western counterparts to the task.

As reported by AdAge, a collective pay wall put together by a company called Piano Media is reportedly thriving. The secret? Piano Media brought nine of Slovakia's biggest news publishers behind the pay wall, effectively

Thus far, customers paying $1.40/week, $4/month or $40/year have brought in just under $60,000 in revenue in six weeks. This exceeds expectations, and is not bad when one considers that the average income in Slovakia was approximately €750/month in 2010 and the internet population stands at just 2.5m.

Needless to say, Slovakia is not the U.K. or U.S., so publishers would rightfully point out that comparing their markets to the Slovakian market is probably akin to comparing apples and oranges. But that doesn't mean that there aren't lessons to be learned from Slovakia. There are.

Lesson #1: Publishers Must Believe in Paid Content

Part of the reason many publishers will fail to develop viable pay walls is that they truly don't believe in pay walls. The New York Times pay wall, for instance, has been referred to as a 'pay fence' because it has so many holes in it.

To a certain extent, it's not surprising that publishers want to hedge their bets. In most markets, content is now a commodity, and if you charge for yours, consumers can go elsewhere to get similar content for free.

In Slovakia, on the other hand, the largest publishers were able to come together and agree to put their publications behind a pay wall. What that demonstrates: they were willing to put their faith in paid content. Until a publisher does that, most attempts at building pay walls are half-hearted at best.

Lesson #2: Price for Progress, Not Perfection

Tomas Bella, Piano Media's CEO, doesn't want to sell subscriptions for $1.40/week forever. He told AdAge:

Most of our publishers would like to see the price higher, but to start with, we are trying to encourage impulse buying. We will introduce more-expensive packages at a later date, but what's important for now is that people are learning to pay for the content. The highest value to us is in breaking consumer habits.

Pricing obviously influences behavior. Instead of trying to sell subscriptions at prices that discourage purchasing, Piano Media has priced its subscriptions to encourage purchasing. Western publishers should consider that, while they won't be charging $1.40/week for their content, they probably shouldn't start off asking for $40/month either.

Lesson #3: Convenience Counts

According to Bella, "we believe that people do see the value in online content -- it's just that the current system is so inconvenient".

Having multiple news organizations behind a single pay wall is certainly convenient, but it goes without saying that such a paywall is unlikely to be built in larger markets where dozens upon dozens of publishers (if not more) would have to join forces to have a meaningful mega-pay wall.

But there are other ways publishers can promote convenience. A couple of examples: don't charge more so that readers can access content on a specific device and don't block content on specific devices.

Patricio Robles

Published 6 July, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2379 more posts from this author

Comments (4)

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Steve Daniel Lionel

Ok, Slovakia has successfully escaped the economic crisis, but I'm sure that the 2012-2013 crisis will affect them. That's for sure!

about 5 years ago

Dominic Brenton

Dominic Brenton, B2B Web Communications Manager at Ordnance Survey

This sounds like a cartel to me. If they tried it in the UK, wouldn't the Competition Commission have something to say?

about 5 years ago

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Tomáš Bella

It is not a cartel, for several reasons, main three being:
1. It actually increases competition between the media, not prevent it - they only get money if people pay at THEIR sites and spend time reading THEIR articles, so they have to fight between themselves by producing more quality content that will engage readers for longe period of time.
2. Piano is very close to cable-tv model - surely the competition between TV stations did not cease to exist only because the access can be bought by paying one price for whole package.
2. Slovak anti-monopoly office, which operates within pretty much the same legal framework as the rest of EU, issued official written statement saying that don't have a problem with the system.

about 5 years ago

Vincent Amari

Vincent Amari, Online Consultancy at Business Foresights Ltd

I believe this strategy probably best way forward.

BTW, why have you quoted costs in US $$
Their prices are all in Euro
Or was it simpler just to take the numbers in the Adage article :-P

about 5 years ago

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