New Publishing Tech
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Zephr, helping publishers drive digital subscriptions post-pandemic: Q&A

Founded in 2017 and VC-backed, Zephr is a leading dynamic paywall and customer journey solution for publishers. Headquartered in London, the company already works with dozens of major clients globally – including Condé Nast, News Corp, Dennis Publishing, and publishing industry trade body FIPP. As the company expands into the States, WNIP caught up with Zephr’s CEO, James Henderson, to find out more…

Can you give us some more background about your company?

Yes, following our successful launch in 2017, we’ve made great progress with 200% year-on-year growth. Our company has expanded from a five-member team to a 34-strong team, and monthly revenue has grown by 50% in the past two months alone.

Last year we set up operations across Europe and in the US, recently welcoming both Central Mediacsoport, MIT Technology Review and The New York Post as clients.

What business problem is your company addressing?

The one-size-fits-all approach to subscriptions which we so often see in publishing is incredibly limiting. Some consumers want to access only certain types of content, and resent paying for everything. Still more people hit a paywall before they are ready to pay, and fail to convert, when access to just one or two more articles might have had them hooked.

Worse, paywall technology is very outdated. It mostly relies on javascript, so it can be easily circumvented by ad-blockers (now used by a third of internet users). It requires hard-coding into the system to so it can be hard for marketing teams to change anything. And crucially, it’s static, so doesn’t react to the needs of the individual consumers – those who need more or different content before they will convert. 

The end result of all of this is declining revenues for publishers, low conversion rates and poor retention of subscribers – which drives costs. And it’s only getting worse.

What is your core product addressing this problem?

Zephr’s Dynamic Subscription Technology helps media businesses succeed in the subscription economy with fast, flexible paywalls and journey orchestration. Using Zephr’s decision-engine, product and rule builders, non-technical teams can design, A/B test and deploy data-driven reader registration, subscription and retention journeys in minutes, not days or weeks, and at scale across multiple sites/titles without having to replicate rules.

Our technical approach ensures client sites cannot be bypassed by browser spoofs or VPNs, making it highly secure and giving clients complete control over their audiences. 

Additionally, a code-free drag-and-drop interface means that commercially focused teams can vary and optimize customer journeys with no tech expertise necessary. Identity and access management tooling is paired with granular page-by-page or even in-page controls, allowing users to create personalized products for different audiences. This drives faster growth in subscriber numbers, leaves less money on the table and reduces churn. 

Can you give an example of a publisher successfully using your solution?

Using Zephr’s intuitive drag-and-drop ‘Journey Builder’, a major UK publisher with over £130M revenue was able to set up datawalls for all users who read more than a certain number of articles per month, ensuring they only captured those who were already engaged.

Within 90 days, and without writing a single line of code, 20% of all users on a major UK publication had been moved from anonymous to registered, and were active on a daily basis.

Learning from this initial success, the commercial teams were able to adjust strategies and iterate across a second title. This saw the publisher outperform themselves – with 30% of users registered and engaged within the first 6 weeks for the second site.

Pricing?

We are an all-in-one SaaS solution with no ongoing services or support costs. It starts at £1500 per month and increases depending on the number of sites, page views and users of the software required.

What are other people doing in the space and why?

There are existing customer journey and paywall providers in the space, but they are hampered by legacy technology that means they are no longer fit for purpose. They are mostly hard-coded, so they cannot be edited or altered by anyone except the technology team and as a result have little flexibility to provide different experiences to audiences with different needs (e.g. from different cities, or at different times of the day). They are also riddled with extra services costs and support costs – so the price you pay at signing quickly becomes higher billing over time.

Zephr is built for commercial teams from the ground up. Our product’s intuitive UI allows non-technical stakeholders to build and activate highly personalized trial, sell and upsell customer journeys on an unprecedented scale, with no code changes needed.

How do you view the future?

We should aspire to turn an audience experience of publisher-to-one-million into an audience experience that feels like one-to-one. Commercially focused teams must be able to conceive and deploy highly personalized customer journeys without always going to their tech teams and asking for help. They need to be able to test, learn and change entire products, packages and revenue models in hours, not weeks.

This means publishers need tools that are intuitive to use and don’t require years of coding experience to handle. Most of all, it means they need tools that integrate across the whole customer journey — offering a wide range of personalized outcomes for every potential subscriber. Tools to which publishers can turn include no-code platforms, which ensure that organizations can handle every client, prospect and visitor uniquely, putting the power to build and change outcomes at speed straight into the hands of specialists who understand the market.

Thank you.

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