Press+ takes its meter subscription model global

RR Donnelley’s Press+, which provides a digital subscription metering solution for publishers, recently announced it is expanding globally and has added London-based John Michael Hull as business development director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Hull was previously the business development manager for Piano Media.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | July 11, 2013

Launched in 2009 and now used by some 450 affiliate publishers, primarily in the U.S. and Canada, Press+ provides publishers with a quick and easy way to start charging for their digital content through the use of a metered model as well as ongoing consultation about what offers are working best for their publishing clients, which include Digital First MediaMcClatchyTribune Company and Lee Enterprises. Co-founders and co-CEOs Steven Brill, a media entrepreneur, and Gordon Crovitz, former publisher of The Wall Street Journal, recently spoke to us about how the Press+ solution works and what publishers have to gain by working with them.

For starters, the metered model differs from a paywall or freemium model in that with a meter all of a publisher’s content is freely available to all users, but within limits, whereas a paywall, such as The Times of London uses, is “an either-or proposition,” as Brill puts it. “If you pay, you read and you see the ads. If you don’t pay, you don’t read, and you don’t see the ads,” he says.

A freemium model offers some content free, but Crovitz points out, editors often choose to keep their best stories locked up for subscribers only, and as a result, young people and those who are new to a publisher’s brand never get a chance to see their best content.

With a meter model, which is also what The New York Times uses, all website visitors have access to all content, but after reading the fixed number of stories within a given month, the visitor is then required to register and pay in order to view more content. The number of stories freely accessible varies and can easily be changed according to the meter limit the publisher wishes to set.

Advice on where to set the meter and pricing

Crovitz says Press+ works with each of its affiliate publishers to help determine which setting is right for them. “We make a recommendation based on the traffic – how many visitors there are, the level of engagement, what type of site is it, and based on our 400-and-some publishers around the world, what we know from best practices, we make a recommendation about where to set the meter, what price to charge, and if they should use geo-targeting,” he says.

Among established meter users, the number of free stories is frequently 10 stories a month or fewer, but it is often higher at the initial stages as both publishers and their users get accustomed to the concept.

The difference between a paywall and a meter is crucial, Brill and Crovitz stress, because with a meter a publisher’s online advertising revenue is not affected since all users can potentially see any ad.

Crovitz says publishers usually ask, “‘Are we going to lose all of our ad revenue?’ because, of course, with a paywall as opposed to a meter, a publisher could lose a lot of their page views and therefore advertising, but not a single one of our 450 or so publishers has lost a cent of ad revenues because we are careful to set the meter in such a way that they don’t. In fact, we’re now seeing in North America a trend towards publishers charging a premium for advertising viewed by paying subscribers.”

Furthermore, Brill says the meter model offers publishers the opportunity to begin charging for their content without taking a major step. He describes it as “more like going into the shallow end of a swimming pool than it is diving off a cliff. You can just dip your toe in. The whole point of the meter is you’re not making any big decisions: you can start out conservatively. If you want to start out with a 20 meter (20 free articles), that’s fine.”

Start-up process and costs

As for how the process works when a publisher signs up with Press+, Crovitz says it is fast and fairly simple. “The technology is very easy from the publisher’s point of view, it’s cutting and pasting some Java script – it’s like adding Google analytics to your website. … What tends to take a little longer – two weeks, three weeks – is the marketing launch. … For many publishers, we do the drafts of the marketing messages. It’s typically a two or three week process, but on the technology side, it’s less than a day.”

That, he stresses, is very different from publishers who choose to build their own systems. For example, he points out The New York Times built its own system, which took more than a year and cost approximately U.S.$ 25 million.

In terms of pricing, Press+ charges a basic set up fee of U.S.$ 4,500 (less for smaller circulation newspapers) and an ongoing revenue-share model whereby the publisher keeps 80 percent of their digital earnings from the meter and Press+ gets 20 percent.

Crovitz says the structure allows publishers to start gaining online revenue without having to write a big check and it also helps keep Press+ “on the same side of the table as the publishers: We’re incentivised to help them maximise their revenue.”

One platform for all devices

In keeping with this, Press+ has ensured that its meter system works across all digital platforms: websites, iPhones, iPads, Android, etc. so that users can easily access content across devices. “Our developers have written software for all those different devices that enables the publisher to offer one subscription to all of them,” Crovitz says.

In addition, he points out that the Press+ platform is a highly flexible one, which allows publishers to try different approaches at the same time to determine which works best for them.

“We’ve got a multi-variant testing system built into our platform which means that they can have, for example, half the visitors have a meter of 15 and half have a meter of five and within a month, the data will tell them which is the better approach,” he says.

Brill adds that publishers can also use geo-targeting with their users.

“Let’s say you’re the leading newspaper in Athens,” he says. “You can set the meter so that it only works on people who are outside of Greece. So, if you have a large ex-pat community in the U.S., a large ex-pat community in the U.K., and the only way they can get that newspaper is online and they want to keep up with what’s going on at home, you can ask them to pay before you start asking people at home to pay and there you’re not risking anything.”

Furthermore, with 450+ affiliates already using the Press+ system, interested publishers have numerous peers they can talk with before signing up for the system.

“One of the encouraging things about the news industry is that executives are very open to sharing best practices and speaking with others who are considering the move to the metered model,” Crovitz says. “Of course we now have dozens of news executives in North America who are happy to speak to their peers in Europe about the experience and that will also make this transition happen much more quickly.”

In October, Matthew Skibinski, VP of Affiliate Relations for Press+, will be speaking at WAN-IFRA’s Digital Media Latinoamérica conference in Bogotá, Colombia, about their metered model and how they work with publishers. For the latest conference updates, and to register, see

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