Learning to build the paywall from the Star Media group

Ruhani Rabin shares an experience closer to home

Learning to build the paywall from the Star Media group

Subscription-based models are rising across all content producers and providers, from digital press to eLearning, video-on-demand (VOD), audio streaming sites, ePaper, and magazines. Consumers are increasingly willing to pay. Successful companies such as Netflix, The New York Times, Spotify, YouTube, Amazon Prime, and many others are pioneering digital subscriptions to the point where paying for content is gradually becoming the norm. This means that transitioning to a subscription model and monetizing your content has never been easier.

Ruhani Rabin, senior general manager, Digital, Star Media Group, Berhad – Malaysia, gave participants at the recent Wan-Ifra Digital India Media Summit, the opportunity to learn from the experience of a neighboring Asian media industry. In his presentation, ‘Subscription lead businesses, turning on the subscription paywall,’ he holistically reflected that digital subscription programs can reshape the newsroom by taking advantage of both analytics and artificial intelligence.

Rabin said the first question for everyone that comes to mind is, “Why do we pay for a subscription? What benefit will it give to us?” He suggested that subscriptions enable the media company to provide a variety of services other than just the first set of contracted deliverables. This is an advantage to the client, who is always aware that resources (whatever they may require) will be available as their needs change. A subscription typically refers to a continuous supply of goods or services.

Fear of flying

The biggest fear of starting a paywall system for news is that readers will drop out. He added that the main factors driving the success of digital paywalls are a positive reputation for facts, truth, and exclusive content. Newspapers with less exclusive content, on the other hand, have suffered losses when they implemented paywalls for their digital content, he said.

The Star Group in Malaysia launched its first web news platform in 1995. “For 25 years, we have provided our customers with free news, but now we are charging by giving access to the ‘Standard Plan’ and ‘Premium Plan.’ Access to the Standard Plan is less expensive, but it shows advertisements and the Premium Plan charges while higher, have ad-free and reminder-free news. The Star Group subscription revenue has increased from January 2021 to January 2022 in 8.9% quarterly increments.”

According to Rabin, People hate ads that break reader concentration and interest, so prefer to spend on a subscription for hassle-free reading. The media companies derive income in two ways – from the ads that are displayed and then again when they remove the ads for subscribers. Rabin also said, as did other speakers at the event, that having page readership builds authority which can help in selling web and print ads.

Artificial intelligence works to create attention-seeking bait in the subscription model. By using the readers’ historical viewing data it delivers the news that seemingly reads their minds and only related videos based on earlier clicks. The goal is to entice the reader to push the subscription button. Of course, various marketing and freemium models need to be dynamically presented by segregating sets of behaviors.

In the question and answer period, Rabin said that he keeps tabs on the subscription plans of the European and US dailies that have been most successful at monetizing their content, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, and The Guardian. Nevertheless, he also keenly watches the Asian dailies which he feels are more relevant such as the Singapore Straight Times, The South China Morning Post, and The Hindu. 

His observation is that Asian audiences are not yet ready to pay the higher subscription fees of the Western news paywalls model for their local readers. Moreover, he suggested that Indian dailies also look at The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other western dailies’ use of adaptive and dynamic subscription price models to hook more readers in other geographies with lower levels of disposal income.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

It is the right time to support our high-impact reporting and authoritative and technical information with some of the best correspondents in the industry. Readers can power Indian Printer and Publisher’s balanced industry journalism and help sustain us by subscribing.

– Naresh Khanna

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