Are publishers moving beyond the paywall concept?

Publishers are evolving… or are they?

It’s 2009, Rupert Murdoch is bleating on about how Google are a bunch of thieves for stealing his content and publishers are starting to think about paywalls as an option for protecting their content.

Fast forward to 2013 and for many, the great paywall experiment has been relatively successful. The paywall is growing up because it has no choice. Publishing is a hustle these days, and those willing to try and fail will end up ahead. When the Times rolled out its “leaky paywall” in 2011 — the Times prefers to talk of meters rather than paywalls — many critics lambasted the approach. But now, the in-between approach of the Times has been adopted far and wide, from venerable outlets like the Times and People magazine to local papers like the Dallas Morning News, as publishers are moving beyond the extremists on both sides of the paywall debate. The choice, it turns out, is not free vs. paid. It is figuring out how to generate the dual revenue stream that news organizations have always relied on and remain flexible in achieving that goal.

The Times has established itself as a leader in the in-between camp of the paywall debate. While publications like The Wall Street Journal are hardliners — it puts nearly all its content behind a paywall with the hefty cost of $260 per year – others are showing more flexibility — and complementing access to content with modern versions of the Sport Illustrated football phone. Time Inc.’s People, for instance, started a new subscription model in September called People VIP. For $200 a year, People VIP subscribers get full access to the magazine online as well as editorially selected gift boxes that will be mailed out three times a year. This month, for example, People VIPs got a scarf inspired by a garment that Rihanna wore, a trendy bracelet, and a note from the editors why each product was selected. People VIPs are also entered to win passes to movie premiers and even a chance to go to the Oscars as a guest of the magazine.

For readers who don’t need all the extra bells and whistles, there’s still the standard $100 yearly magazine or digital subscription. For $130, readers get both the magazine and a full online subscription. The most economical People subscription is $10 a year to access limited People coverage on its app.

As mentioned, there have been some hit harder by the paywall concept: The Dallas Morning News, which made news recently for tearing down its old paywall, is also betting that added perks around a loyalty program will prove profitable.

Locally we’ve only seen Business Day go behind a paywall and there’s currently no context to whether it has been successful or not.

The trick for publishers when it comes to paywalls: there’s no need to be extreme, rather allow occasional readers their content and the die-hard fans will pay to enjoy your content.

As a publisher should you worry about ad-blocking?

Ad-blocking is the ability to stop ads showing through a browser plugin that automatically stops online banners from loading. For publishers that make their money off online ads this is potentially a massive revenue loss.

A recent report on ad-blocking from Pagefair paints a bleak picture:

Ad-blocking is threatening the business model of online publishers. In this report we present new data demonstrating that adblock is being rapidly adopted by consumers, and is becoming mainstream. Based on measurements taken from hundreds of websites over 11 months, we show that up to 30% of web visitors are blocking ads, and that the number of ad-blocking users is growing at an astonishing 43% per year.

We’re not convinced that this is all so doom and gloom however if you’re interested you can download the full report here.

As a publisher should you be scared of the repercussions of ad-blocking?

Despite a few scary headlines, major publishers say their data just doesn’t support that view. Ad blocking is an issue worth monitoring, they say, but it remains far from a priority. It currently costs them relatively little in lost ad revenues and, ultimately, poses little threat to their businesses, they say.

MailOnline chief revenue officer Rich Sutton said, “We don’t feel that this ever going to be that wide-spread of an issue. We aren’t focused on the people who don’t like ads and try to block them – they aren’t going to be receptive to advertising anyway.”

The fact is most publishers have bigger fish to fry than ad blocking. Their attentions are focused on issues like ad viewability, bot traffic on their sites and, perhaps most important, the damage widespread adoption of do-not-track mechanisms could pose to their businesses.

But some sites could be more affected than others. According to PageFair, sites in the gaming category are most impacted by ad blocking, likely because of the tech-savvy audiences they attract.

The truth is it’s only the technically savvy know to install ad blockers but possibly this is the push that online publishers require in order to get an innovative new business model.

The state of South Africa’s online audience

The online audience in South Africa

The Digital Media & Marketing Association, in conjunction with their research partners Effective Measure have released some interesting new information on the state of South Africa’s internet population. According to the company:

The rise of digital content has given the consumer the gift of choice. Whether eclectic or highly specialised, the digital audience has more access to content range than ever before. But while the South African digital masses are viewing more pages with gusto, as Unique Browsers are up by 62.5% and Visits up by 83.5% year on year, the time they spend there is getting briefer. Keeping your audience engaged is now the biggest challenge and opportunity.

Effective Measure research shows that South Africa’s digital nation is spending more time online but across many more sites and significantly heading to their mobile. The core trends emerging are shorter stays pay per page and more access via mobile – the key triggers are brevity and instant access. The winners in this new paradigm will be the publishers that keep their audience sticky and loyal to whichever platform they are on. Engagement and the notion of stickiness needs to be top of mind for the publishing sector. A disconnect is emerging in the idea of what makes content powerful, from both the advertising and editorial realms, the game has changed and increasingly the old metrics cannot be applied.

Thankfully the report points out that it’s time for companies to look beyond just vanity metrics. Publishers have traditionally focused on selling ‘volume’ and ‘reach’ metrics (Page Impressions and Unique Browsers) of their sites to agencies, and agencies have been taught to also ask for these metrics to get a feel for how big a certain site is. Yet, these days a site can be built to serve millions of Page Impressions potentially taking the user a very long journey which might not actually help the user experience.

Some further information on the growth of digital in South Africa:

digital growthThere’s even a useful infographic:

Screen Shot 2013-08-30 at 9.54.38 AM

Moral of the story: if you want to target a wide range of South African’s, online is the answer. Download the rest of the report on the DMMA website and contact us for the best way to target a local audience.

regardless of what your goals are with your digital marketing efforts, there are online audiences craving for your content. It is the only truly measurable medium for lead generation, online sales and brand marketing. The ability to have easy to understand metrics around your lead generation efforts for example will help you to save huge amounts in the short term and in the long term. It makes it possible for you to adjust your approach with much more agility.

The growth of automated media buying

Digital marketing media buying on auto-pilot

Real-time bidding (RTB) is a new method of selling and buying online display advertising in real time one ad impression at a time. Also sometimes referred to as programmatic buying/selling this is the future of media buying online.

eMarketers latest forecast of US ad spending predicts marketers will spend $3.34 billion this year on real-time-bidded ads, up 73.9% from last year. Previously, in June, eMarketer forecast RTB spending would reach $3.32 billion, for growth of 72.7%. eMarketer has similarly revised upward growth rates and total dollars spent on RTB for future years. eMarketer now expects US advertisers to spend $8.69 billion on RTB ads by 2017, up from $8.51 billion previously forecast.

On the desktop, programmatic or automated buying of display ads has already made huge inroads. Its advocates say that it has led to a more transparent and efficient digital ad market. But it is in mobile where programmatic buying may make the most difference. That’s because smartphones are advertising platforms that we carry in our pockets, and with RTB that means marketers can reach us in real-time, and target potential customers according to location and context.

There are some great benefits in media buying for publishers:

  1. It could help solve the CPM problem: The glut of ad inventory as global audiences rush into mobile has dragged on mobile display ad CPMs (CPMs refers to the cost per thousand impressions). That means publishers can’t monetize their mobile audiences effectively via ads. Advocates of programmatic — or automated buying and selling — say it can deliver the scale and efficiency needed to effectively match buyers and sellers and boost CPMs.
  2. Leveraging location data via real-time bidding (RTB): RTB is a style of programmatic buying in which digital advertising opportunities are auctioned off in real-time. The auctions take place in milliseconds as advertisers bid on the right to show you an ad immediately after you open an app or click to a new web page. On mobile, RTB could be extremely powerful because consumers take their devices everywhere — to the mall, the car dealership, Starbucks, etc. “You have a source of media that’s with someone constantly,” says Jamie Singer, director of client services at Everyscreen Media, a platform for mobile RTB that was recently acquired by Media6Degrees. “You’re working in real-time, and getting information based on location.”
  3. Helping to reach the holy grail of mobile advertising — controls and efficiencies: Believers in RTB and programmatic for mobile say they are making giant strides in perfecting their technologies, so they’ll have the ability to leverage consumer data on mobile and track users as they do on PCs (while still being sensitive to privacy concerns). That will include location, contextual, and demographic data layered on top of real-time ad requests.
  4. Some publishers already achieve higher CPMs with RTB than they do with traditional ad networks: As a result, RTB is seeing wider adoption across the mobile ad ecosystem, and positive momentum on both sides of the equation. The sell-side is providing more premium inventory, and larger publishers. And the buy-side is seeing more demand for RTB from advertisers and agencies. Of course, RTB and programmatic are contributing to hyper-efficient markets where ad prices tend to be low. The key is for RTB to bring scale to premium mobile ad marketplaces, bring in scale-focused brands, and lift all boats that way.

Get hold of us at OfferForge for us to help you optimise your advertising costs.

Your digital marketing mix should be focused on reaching your customers in a number of ways and display plays an important part. It allows for the creation of brand awareness on the channels that customers frequent.

How publishers can adapt to responsive design

There’s a huge amount of talk these days about responsive design: the ability of a website to adapt to any device without having to swap to a specific mobile or desktop version of the site. For a great example direct your browser to and resize your window to see how the site adapts to show different amounts of content depending on the size of the screen.

The problem with responsive design is that it requires you to create currently three different versions of the site: mobile, tablet and desktop. This is an adjustment for most web devs although it’s an important step for publishers to take. The reason for this is simple: many readers are adopting mobile phones and tablets as their primary consumption devices for online content.

There are some great case studies for responsive design and the excellent results they provide. O’Neill clothing adapted their online store to a responsive layout and the following occurred:

The redesign achieved some fairly spectacular results on iPhone/iPod:

  • Conversions increased by 65.71%.
  • Transactions went up 112.5%.
  • Revenue increased by 101.25%.

Similarly, on Android devices:

  • Conversions shot up by 407.32%.
  • Transactions increased by 333.33%.
  • Revenue increased by a whopping 591.42%.

As we know as M-Commerce becomes popular responsive is critical however publishers are also seeing excellent results. Here’s what happened when made the change:

  1. Mobile and tablet traffic has gone from 15% of the site traffic pre-redesign to now almost 25%. The bulk of that was the migration of people who were using the old WAP site migrating to the new site.
  2. Pages per visit (PPV), across mobile, tablet and desktop are up “considerably” – for example, mobile PPV increased 23%.
  3. On the homepage, unique visits increased 15%, and time spent went up 7.5%, with the mobile bounce rate decreasing by 26%.

In addition you don’t have to worry about maintaining two different versions of your site and having to install software to decide what device is arriving at your site and direct them to the requisite version.

Responsive design isn’t just an interesting idea for publishers, it’s a non negotiable. For early adopters there is huge room for affiliate marketing success. Your digital marketing efforts will definitely fall flat if you don’t make the move. Even if you are a little late to the party, you will definitely still benefit from improving your sites to be fully responsive.

Will we be seeing the end of free online content?

For many years we’ve heard the debate that online content is killing traditional publishers. As a reader why would you pay for the content you could read online for free without even leaving the house?

We’ve seen plenty of experiments with paywalls and other ways to charge readers for content however it’s only recently that certain content providers are starting to see the fruits of their struggles after losing major share to free competitors.

Ten years ago we were using Napster to download music but we’ve become accustomed to paying for content online thanks to iTunes and other easy access services.

Last month, the Washington Post implemented a “metered subscription model,” which leaves only two of the country’s five largest newspapers — the Los Angeles Times and USA Today — free to online readers. Paywalls, once denounced as a suicidal move for news outlets, have proved effective for larger organizations. Now, over 450 of America’s 1,380 dailies have digital play plans in place or in the works, according to the Pew Research Center.

moving away from free online content in South Africa

In South Africa it’s a different story: the only company experimenting with a paywall is the Sunday Times newspaper. Publisher Times Media still provides the rest of their content for free including newspapers such as The Sowetan and The Times can be read online for free.

It’s time for publishers to embrace the metered model in order to promote quality over quantity and it seems to be a growing international trend. The truth is most of us don’t even notice whether we’ve hit the paywall limit as sites such as the New York Times still provide 20 free articles a month. Unless you’re a regular reader (in which case you should just pay for the content) you’re not going to notice the difference.

The biggest challenge for those who choose to charge for their content is the vast array of alternative sources. In our opinion it would be extremely difficult finding a model that consumers would latch on to.

The creation and distribution of free content is however the backbone on which affiliate marketing has been built since the turn of the century. Where others are closing the doors to consumers, there are new doors opening for digital marketers willing to put in the time and effort.

Could there be anything worse than a slideshow on a website?

Pagination is always important on the internet. We’ve all been stuck sitting through a list of top ten “coolest dogs in beret’s” and having to click the “next” button ten times gets particularly annoying. The biggest online culprits when it comes to using a slideshow on a website include Business Insider and Forbes.

It makes sense for a publisher, you’re easily able to increase your pageviews. For advertisers it’s annoying as their inventory gets depleted on useless clicks. Readers are probably more focused and are therefore ignoring the adverts. The setup is doubly annoying for readers as they have to click through multiple pages of content and wait for adverts to download before they see the content. The only group really winning is the publisher and this is a trend that will hopefully not go on for much longer.

Suddenly instead of a handful of adverts served you’ve got ten times the amount. It’s not entirely a legitimate process.

Digiday went and looked at their top three “offenders” and their misuse of the concept.

How the slideshows are misused in digital marketing


  • 4 IAB display impressions per slide.
  • 10 slides.
  • 40 impressions total.
  • = 4 ads per slide.

Bleacher Report

  • 4 IAB display impressions per slide, not all refresh with every click.
  • 9 slides.
  • 20 impressions total.
  • = 2.22 Ads per slide.


  • 2 IAB impressions per slide.
  • 101 slides including intro slide.
  • 204 impressions total.
  • = 2.02 Ads per slide.

With the growth of native advertising we will see less of this type of advertising and it’s interesting to see that the likes of Buzzfeed don’t use slideshows. Publishers, are you still doing this and do advertisers accept this? We think it’s a poor tactic but we can also see the benefit for publishers.

This approach to presenting content has one goal in mind: making money for the publisher. If it were aimed at the consumer it would have looked at how to make they digital experience more enjoyable.

A look at the Cannes Cyber Lions winners

Whether you work as a publishers, advertiser or agency, a little bit of creative inspiration is a great way to help your own work. Last week we saw the Cannes advertising festival where the worlds greatest advertising creatives got together to celebrate their year of work. In 1998, the Cyber Lions were introduced to celebrate digital work. This year the Gran Prix winners included Intel and Oreo with Pereira & O’Dell and DraftFCB being the respective agencies.

Intel + Toshiba 

According to the agency both Intel and Toshiba were the client and since Intel wanted to refresh “Intel Inside,” Toshiba wanted to feature the Ultrabook it made sense.

The campaign had 70million views, 26million interactions, 97% approval on Youtube and led to a 66% lift in brand perception for Intel, a 40% for Toshiba. The campaign led to a 300% sales increase.

You can also see the social media work done on Facebook here.

Oreo Daily Twist

Born in 1912, OREO was turning 100. Having always spoken to families in a traditional way, the brand had developed a traditional image.

Now, how to use a centennial anniversary to actually rejuvenate OREO? Celebrating the culture of the day, every day.

The campaign created 100 ads in 100 days. Each morning they identified trending news stories, gave them a playful OREO twist, and pushed a brand-new ad to their social networks.

oreo 1st flight around the world ad

The results were staggering: 433 million Facebook views with +280% increase in Shares, creating 231 million media impressions and making OREO the brand with the highest buzz increase in 2012 (+49%). A full list of the images created can be found on Pinterest.

For a full list of winners and even more inspiration click for the full list on the Cannes Cyber Lion page.

Is there power in social media for local publishers?

There definitely is. These numbers are astounding and they might look out of reach. There is however huge scope in the South African marketing for those willing to take their digital marketing to a new level. The number of views on Youtube and interactions on Facebook keep growing with every passing month. If you are keen to give your digital marketing efforts a boost, you should invest the time in studying social media campaigns and creating your own top content.

Should publishers be moving towards sponsored content?

Can sponsored content be sustainable

Sponsored content is the new sexy topic on the lips of publishers. Once a publisher gets enough traction they can move from a pure advertising model into one where content is paid for by advertisers.

Internationally, sites such as Buzzfeed, Quartz and big traditional publishers such as Forbes. The content is tagged as sponsored but still keeps the tone and style of the website. The economics of sponsored are interesting, especially due to the fact that the “product” is in its infancy.

Buzzfeed, the poster child for sponsored content online, doesn’t put an article up for less than $5,000 however the average spend is between $50,000 and $100,000 for between two to five articles on the site. Interestingly Buzzfeed gets their in-house content team to write the content; an interesting spin on the business model of keeping writers on your payroll to only write content for your own brand.

publishers moving to sponsored content like this

Buzzfeed works heavily on a type of articles known as “listicles” it’s a perfect mix for an advertiser. As we can see above, Purina gets their product associated with fun content that users would be interested in viewing anyway.

Another great example is that of Quartz, a recently newly launched site that focuses on business content. Quartz uses a scrolling layout where the newest content starts at the top. Peppered between editorial content is sponsored content by advertisers such as Boeing and Cadillac. The content is all business related, making it relevant to the reader but still heavily focused on the advertisers product. A perfect example is the Boeing article on the future of safety in flight. While pricing is less transparent than Buzzfeed the content is often created by the client rather than Quartz themselves. This could be indicative of the type of client using Quartz or the size of the editorial team.

The Huffington Post is also a big proponent of sponsored content and charge $40,000 per item of content. In addition they add enough to promotion to ensure around twenty million impressions of the content. Due to the variety of content on the site there is no limitation in types of content so we tend to see information ranging from text posts to infographics and slideshows galore.

The trick with sponsored content is very similar to that normal advertising purchases: keep the content relevant. At the moment it’s the wild west where publishers are scrambling to understand what the market wants. Within the next year sponsored content won’t be a crazy idea and become part of a publishers advertising mix.

What does this mean for affiliate marketing?

Affiliate marketers will struggle to afford paying these types of prices to give their content a boost. If you however are in the fortunate position to have loads of traffic on your website, you will be able to make more money online. It offers you the chance to boost your income over and above your affiliate marketing efforts.

The scramble for digital real estate is becoming more and more intense. If you have quality content with a fair amount of traffic, you can turn your website into a cash-cow