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Aug. 11, 2015, 1:12 p.m.
Business Models

Tinypass and Piano Media merge, and embrace “paywall” as a fluid concept

“Paywall” can now mean a lot of different things, said Trevor Kaufman, CEO of the newly combined companies.

There’s more consolidation in the paywall platform business: Tinypass and Piano Media announced Tuesday that they are merging into a single company, Piano, which will be led by Tinypass CEO Trevor Kaufman. The European-based Piano Media already acquired Press+, which was co-founded by Steven Brill and L. Gordon Crovitz and then sold to RR Donnelley, last September.

Rumors of this latest merger have been floating around for a few weeks. Piano will be headquartered in New York, and Kelly Leach, Piano Media’s former CEO, will serve as an advisor.

Tinypass has picked up a number of big clients in recent months, including NBC Universal CNBC Pro, E.W. Scripps WCPO, and Time Inc. These organizations are using a variety of methods to let readers gain access: As Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp said in an earnings call earlier this month, “Payment could simply be you sharing data with us, so we can know more about you.”

I spoke with Kaufman briefly on Tuesday about what he’s seeing in paywalls. Below is a condensed version of our conversation.

Laura Owen: What does Piano look like as a single company?

Trevor Kaufman: We’ve focused a lot on developing our VX platform [the main Tinypass platform that lets publishers manage their digital content business], and Piano has developed a really great global sales team and client services team, so [the two are] very complementary. Piano Media has a big footprint in the newspaper business globally, and this enables us to leverage our software over that entire customer base.

A lot of our clients are interested in selling subscriptions, but they’re also interested in increasing engagement, and the moment you restrict access to content, you have a currency that you can exchange with your users. There are many activities that can constitute a value exchange between the publisher and the user, and only one of them is paying — [there’s also] watching advertising, turning off your ad blocker, registering, signing up for a newsletter, providing data. VX enables all these different value exchanges between the user base and the media company.

The merger unlocks the data and learning from all of those publishers around the world, which had previously been a bit trapped. Now, with our software, we’re really going to be able to take advantage of that [data] for our clients. Over the next several months, we’re going to push to migrate [Piano Media] clients to the [Tinypass] platform, so they can take advantage of a lot more functionality and better analytics.

Owen: What trends are you seeing in paywalls? How are publishers thinking about paywalls these days and how is that different from, say, a year ago?

Kaufman: I see two big trends.

One, they are not thinking about paywalls as binary. We had a time where publishers were thinking about paywalls the same way they thought about print subscription: Either you are a subscriber, or you’re not. Now, I think, publishers are getting more sophisticated. They have lots of different levels of engagement and commitment, and their job is to maximize value at every stage of the funnel and figure out how to move users through. They’re thinking about registered users, newsletter subscribers, users who might give gift subscriptions. It’s more elaborate and more nuanced.

The other thing I see is publishers saying they want to craft specific business models for specific groups of users. If someone is in a high-value advertising segment, for example, they might create a different set of paywall rules than if they’re in a low-value advertising segment. Or if someone is a frequent and loyal user, they might present them with a different business model than if they are a fly-by audience member.

Owen: Do you plan to share any of your data publicly?

Kaufman: We now have a really incredible base of data, not just in the newspaper industry, but in magazines, over-the-top, and sub-verticals of media as well. We’re going to be releasing a lot of syndicated data to the industry over the next year.

Photo of brick wall by Pleasence used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Aug. 11, 2015, 1:12 p.m.
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