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How Scroll intends to supplement publisher revenues with a better user experience

Scroll, a new service that promises a clutter-free and faster news consumption experience, launched publicly this week after being in development for years. It is led by Tony Haile, the former CEO of Chartbeat. Scroll integrates with publishers’ sites such that users logged into the service will automatically see clean ad-free pages.

Scroll: Before and After

It already has over 300 publishers on board, including USA Today, Buzzfeed, Business Insider, The Atlantic, Slate, Salon, Vox, The Verge, Gizmodo and the Philadelphia Inquirer. And has attracted investments from Union Square Ventures, The New York Times, Axel Springer, Gannet and Samsung.

Source: Scroll

People tend to pay for a better experience

While the reading experience offered by Scroll may resemble what users already get via ad blockers, it offers additional benefits. Consumers won’t run into any issues on partner sites that detect ad blockers. It also allows users to seamlessly switch devices. They can start an article on a desktop computer, continue reading it on mobile, or switch to listening to it. 

The service integrates directly into sites so that they can always recognize users and deliver a Scroll-enabled experience. Once a reader has logged into his Scroll account, he can visit any of the partner sites and experience a faster, clutter-free experience. This is important, as readership studies have shown that removing hurdles like pop-up ads, or slow load time leads to increased consumption of stories. 

Scroll expects this frictionless reading experience to benefit publishers too, as users develop loyalty to sites that offer a faster, cleaner reading experience.

If we look at the world, pretty much any industry, the things that people have tended to pay for in terms of a premium would be anything that either removes pain and frustration from their lives, or improves the user experience in some meaningful way beyond that level. And I’m really interested to see what’s possible there. 

Tony Haile, CEO, Scroll

“Keeping publishers’ relationship with audiences intact”

Moreover, Scroll will not cannibalize publishers’ subscription or ad revenues as it’s focused on readers who are willing to pay, but not ready to subscribe yet. It can serve as a complementary revenue generator for publishers that are already working on subscription revenue and have paywalls. 

Haile told Poynter earlier, “On one side, you have the rise of the ad-blockers, which is directly affecting publisher revenue. And on the other side, you have platforms coming on saying, ‘hey, we can deliver that experience. And all you have to do is have your content hosted on our site and we’ll control that consumer relationship.’

“And the thing that I’m interested in is how to solve the problem that we’re seeing here, which is satisfying an increasing group of people wanting different experiences than what publishers have traditionally offered.” 

We have to do this without losing revenue for publishers and keeping the publishers’ relationship with audiences intact. So they’re not having to give up the relationship to a platform, they don’t have to deal with ad-blockers, they still get to deliver a great premium experience to users and stay in control.

Tony Haile, CEO, Scroll

He added, “They may still want to go with Instant Articles, it may still turn into a good monetization option for them. But we want them to have choice.”

Haile told TechCrunch that Scroll allows publishers to offer a better experience to readers and make money from them, even if they’re not yet “superfans” who are ready to subscribe. Because of this, some publishers, like Salon, are marketing Scroll to their users directly when they visit their sites, according to Axios.

“What about everyone in between?”

“It’s (Scroll) one of the news industry’s most significant attempts to address a real problem,” comments NiemanLab’s Sarah Scire. 

“There are probably lots of people who like your content enough to click on a link and have an ad or two put near the free story they want to read. And there may be a few people who love your content so much they’re willing to pay a monthly subscription fee for it,” she adds. 

“But what about everyone in between—the people who might be okay throwing you a dime now and then but who aren’t going to buy subscriptions to all of the news sites they read? How can publishers get revenue from them?”

“Scroll is an interesting idea,” says Peter Kafka, Senior Correspondent at Recode. He explains, “Ad blockers aren’t new, and there are plenty you can buy or use for free. But the big difference between previous ad blockers and Scroll is that traditional ad blockers remove publishers’ ads—which most publishers still depend on for the majority of their revenue—without giving them anything in return (which is why some sites block users who use ad blockers). Haile’s company, though, pays publishers who remove (almost) all of their ads.” 

If Scroll works, it doesn’t mean internet advertising is going away. It would, however, be another move toward creating a tiered internet, where people who don’t want to see ads—and can afford to pay not to see them—won’t see ads. And people who can’t pay, or don’t know there’s an option, will keep seeing banners, pop-ups, and pre-rolls. 

Peter Kafka, Senior Correspondent, Recode

This is already happening, especially in video streaming services. Hulu charges $6 a month to give viewers access to its content with ads. For an additional $6 more a month they can watch without ads. CBS All Access offers a similar deal. Quibi, a new video streaming service backed by A-list Hollywood talent also offers both ad-supported and ad-free subscription options.

“Meant to align publishers and users more closely”

Scroll costs $5 per month. Early subscribers can get a 50% discount for the first six months. The company keeps 30% or $1.50 of its $5 fee, the remaining $3.50 is divided among publishers based on how much time each user spends on their sites. Readers also get to see how their subscription fee is getting distributed.

Kafka explains, “Another way of putting it: When you subscribe to Spotify, you end up sending artists like Drake and Taylor Swift (or, at least, the people who own their music) a lot of your monthly fee, even if you never listen to them because other Spotify users listen to them a lot. The Scroll scheme is meant to align publishers and users more closely so your money doesn’t automatically flow to the internet’s biggest publishers.” 

Source: Scroll

According to Haile, Scroll’s partners were seeing an average of $46 in revenue per thousand pageviews. He expects it to be closer to $25 or $30 as the network matures. That is still higher than comparable advertising figures, which Haile estimated between $5 and $20 for the same number of pageviews.

Ad-supported media companies earn approximately $7B a year from showing ads to 234M people in North America. That means that all together they make only $2.50 per person per month from ads. At a price of $4.99, Scroll can pay $3.50 to those sites, a 40% increase over what they would have made.

Scroll
Source: Scroll

“If you have one user coming to your site, that one user is now giving you more money than they would have before,” Haile told The Verge.

He thinks the better experience will ultimately win out. “It was kind of the same question Spotify had: ‘why would anyone pay for this when you had Limewire and Napster? It worked out pretty well for them.”

According to Digiday, several participating publishers have said that Scroll is easy to set up. 

For publishers interested in knowing more or partnering with Scroll, more details are available here.

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