Digital Innovation Digital Publishing
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Why publishers are adding registration walls to their subscription journeys

Recently we have seen more and more publishers adding a new step to their subscription journeys: the registration wall. Instead of simply showing a paywall to readers after a certain number of stories, some publishers have decided to ask for their readers’ email addresses earlier in the process.

A better understanding of readers leads to better conversion

One key reason for adding a registration wall is to better understand your audience. This can help to create more detailed user profiles, which was one of the main reasons The New York Times recently adopted a registration wall, according to CEO Mark Thompson.

Now instead of thinking you have two different users on desktop and mobile, you will be able to link these reading activities together via the user’s email address. With this deeper understanding of readers’ behaviors, publishers are then able to better convert them into paying subscribers. Instead of only using on-site messaging, now users can be reached via their own email inboxes or even through matching audiences on social media advertising. Piano’s research found that the average conversion rate of registered users is 10x that of anonymous visitors, thanks in part to such tools.

In the UK, The Telegraph has also found success with a premium tier of its paywall: this content requires users to give their email address to view one premium article each week. This has helped more than triple their daily subscriber acquisition numbers. We have seen an interesting twist on the registration wall trend lately by Le Monde. For their newsletter La Revue, giving readers each weekend a look at the most important stories of the week, users must give more than just their email address to receive the newsletter. Instead, they have to actually create an account on Le Monde’s website.

Focus on most loyal readers

We know one of the common paywall mistakes is that simply not enough readers ever see the paywall. Industry-wide, the most successful paywall strategies aim to reach 5-10% of readers per month, as these are the most engaged readers who are in turn most likely to subscribe. To reach these readers, you’ll need to look at the data: how many stories do your most engaged non-subscribers read in a month? This will depend on your own audience, but across the industry this is usually around 5 stories. In the past few years we’ve seen this number drop dramatically, from 13 free stories in January 2012 to today’s average of 5. This may still decrease, as we’re starting to see publishers like The Boston Globe going even tighter, reducing from 5 stories in 45 days to just 2.

The ask of personal information is lower than the ask of dollars.

Michael Silberman, SVP of strategy at Piano

Having a registration wall as an earlier step in the subscription journey helps publishers to reach more users and then be able to focus on converting their most loyal readers. Such loyal readers are also known as “super users”: those readers that make up a small percentage of the overall audience but account for a much larger portion of reading activity. On average, roughly just 7% of users account for 50% of publishers’ site traffic. Media analyst Ken Doctor recently shared a case study he saw of a publisher that had a large group of super-engaged readers, 20% of their total audience. However, only 1.3% of those readers had provided their email addresses, making it difficult to personalise their digital subscription offers.

Just as you wouldn’t ask someone to marry you on the first date, it is important to build up the relationship with your readers before asking them to subscribe. That’s how The Guardian sees their engagement spectrum as well, readers enter the spectrum as soon as they give their email address and can start receiving newsletters. Next week we will be exploring this engagement spectrum more in-depth in the newest chapter in our research series “Reinventing Digital Editions“ – subscribe here to receive the report when it is released.

For publishers who are concerned about limiting sampling and discovery by requiring an email address to access content, we can recommend showing the registration wall after one free article. This way fly-by readers who will only consume one specific article and not come back won’t be blocked.

Solving the leaky paywall problem

2019 saw many publishers face new concerns on the effectiveness of their paywall strategies, with fears over upcoming paywall blockers and changes in the ability to prevent other paywall workarounds. One study across a variety of European publishers including The Irish Times and Le Parisien found that 75% of paywalls can be bypassed with only relatively simple techniques. While we saw some publishers move towards hard paywalls to allay these concerns, registration walls are also a strong option.

Instead of readers simply clearing their cookies or accessing content through a different device to bypass a paywall, registration walls help publishers limit content per account rather than per browser or device. With 50% of media executives in a recent Reuters report stating reader revenue will be the most important focus for them this year, strategies for improving paywalls and conversion journeys will only become ever more crucial.

Mary-Katharine Phillips
Media innovation analyst @ Twipe

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