#1 Registration requirements and hard paywalls will continue to grow in popularity.
In early 2019, when The New York Times managed to shut down the swarm of users who had been skirting the site’s paywall via incognito mode, digital users mourned. However, following Google’s browser fix later in the year, incognito users once again began accessing content that the NYT, alongside other publishers, had assumed was beyond easy reach.
As 2020 begins, soft paywalls remain vulnerable and Google has not backed down over workarounds. All of this has only succeeded in making the possibility of control even more attractive to publishers. By blocking users, unless they agree to registration or payment via a hard paywall, publishers are reasserting restrictions over their most valuable asset - content. And, as was pretty much definitively acknowledged in 2019, content is a major driver for revenue growth. Indeed, registration and increased hard paywall usage has left many recent adopters with positive subscription growth - the latest example is The Atlantic (+35%) - but 2020 will see if digital content strategies (many still in their early phases) can persuade users to stay on board.
#2 Churn prevention and retention strategies are set to increase in importance.
Once digital publishers have converted users into subscribers, the clock starts ticking. Keeping these users engaged and willing to pay for access is going to be a key focus in 2020. At the end of 2018, INMA issued a report stating that 59% of publishers had spent more on acquisition than they did on engagement. Perceptions have certainly changed since then, and the industry has clearly awoken to the fact that it’s not about the number of subscribers as much as it is about retention and customer lifetime value (tldr, wasting money on acquisition will not build revenue as much as preventing churn will).
The rapid rise of Artificial Intelligence over recent years will be key in the hunt for keeping users engaged. With this data-driven business intelligence, publishers are able to bring a range of strategies into play to detect, fight and overcome churn. When early signs of engagement loss are caught, triggering the means to fight it, users can often be persuaded to stay. Look set for AI solutions to grow in importance in 2020, as publishers refocus on engagement and churn prevention strategies.
#3 Personalization is key.
Keep an eye on “personalization” in 2020, as users become the target of increasingly individualized approaches that offer convenience and build loyalty. Publishers are learning to offer content that meets the needs of users on the back of data-driven insights. From dynamic paywalls triggered by predictive analysis about user actions to newsletters that offer personalized content tailored to match user reading behavior, this new type of business intelligence will continue to drive engagement and loyalty in 2020. These developments are not the end of personalization, either. Looking towards new developments - from propensity to buy algorithms to content recommendation engines - AI solutions look set to take digital publishing revenues to new heights in 2020.
2020 - A new year and new benefits
For digital publishers who are only beginning to formulate subscription and paywall strategies, there are many ways they can build on the successes of early pioneers. New subscription packages, and paywalls can now be implemented at the same time as content strategy and user retention as parts of a comprehensive solution.
For publishers already wrestling with these issues, 2020 looks to be the year to capitalize on gains from 2019. Optimism is high that user engagement can be profitably managed, and there is even renewed interest in using these same strategies to build ad revenue.
Happy New Year!
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