The Web’s Lockdown
How next-gen paywalls are redefining the open web.
Ah, the internet... This infinite space where we roam lightly from one content to another... until, sometimes, we hit an obstacle: the paywall. A frustration that is likely to intensify as the trend towards a decrease in freely available content on the web becomes wider, at least for quality content.
Indeed, advertising revenues are threatened by the crisis and targeted advertising becomes increasingly difficult to deploy. As a result, publishers around the world are refining their subscription and paywall strategies to increase reader revenues, thus becoming less dependent on advertising. The same is true for social media giants who are also trying to find new sources of revenue. But there is even more to it.
Encouraging website visitors to log in? Yes, but not just any way, as publishers and media companies are increasingly implementing their "wall" strategies. Unlike "Metered Walls," where users are only asked to pay or log in after a certain limit is reached (for example, after a certain number of articles are read), "Dynamic Walls" allow the displayed message to be adjusted based on each user, their origin, and behavior. This is the strategy implemented by The Atlantic in late 2022.
As with all other facets of the web, the walls have their Web3 version. The specialized site Crypto Briefing has recently announced that they will rely on the Access protocol to launch a "Token Paywall."
Data for content
On the brand side, over the years, they have developed more and more content, mainly for SEO or lead generation purposes. As the collection of "first-party" data becomes more and more vital in the context of the end of cookies, quality content could become a bargaining chip to capture data on internet users. As with paywalls on media sites, will we see "registration walls" flourish on brand sites? B2B is ahead of the game: articles, videos, webinars or white papers are usually accessible after filling in a form... and it would not be surprising to see this logic deployed on B2C sites too.
The second step for brands will be to monetize the data collected in this way, like "retail media," an activity that is booming in the world of ecommerce. In fact, the Marriott group is looking to develop "Travel Media" by launching its Marriott’s Media Network in the United States and Canada, which is based on the 164 million members of Marriott Bonvoy, the company's loyalty program. Advertisers can now target them with content shared in the company's videos or emails, but also on in-room TV screens.
But there are probably also models to reinvent. Have you heard of "wait, it's free" walls? The concept: pay to access content immediately or wait a few days to access it for free. A successful strategy deployed in the world of manga by Piccoma.
Next-gen paywalls are making their way into our email inboxes, as evidenced by Gated, a tool that filters emails based on the sender and requires strangers to make a donation to reach their recipient. This clever approach gives users greater control over their inbox, helping them fight clutter and spam while supporting a good cause.
Generative AI, “shared ownership”, etc.
We must not forget that paywall strategies can also be a means of protecting creators. Cam Smith, publisher of the Australian satirical media The Chaser, sums it up very well: “The next generation of GPT, if the rumours are to be believed, will be able to ‘learn’ on the fly. And it’s only a matter of time before it, or one of its competitors, can start crawling the open web. At that stage, free, open, websites will quickly become little more than training tools for these giant algorithms… But one thing we don’t have to do is feed these learning machines our content for free. And that’s why, fairly soon, The Chaser will be closing off our archives and social media feeds after years of providing free content to you all.”
A bit of foresight to finish?
These are just the beginnings of decentralized social networks, but on the same principle, we could see decentralized media brands appear. Web3 social networks promise to give ownership of data back to the creators and their members with the help of blockchain technology. It is the user, not the platform, who owns the information they share and the links they create. In theory, these networks are even intended to be "interoperable," allowing migration from one network to another.
In the same vein, we could move towards a more collaborative content economy, in which the media integrate consumers into their capital, their decision-making processes and even the production of content. By holding tokens or other digital assets, subscribers would be co-creators of products and services and would have access to new sources of revenue and monetization opportunities. In France, this is what 20 Minutes has initiated with the 20Mint project, a newspaper supplement financed and co-created by a community of Web3 early adopters who have acquired one of the 999 NFTs released for sale. Another French example, Snowball, a newsletter dedicated to personal finance, solicits readers to make certain decisions, while 20 percent of the profits are redistributed in the form of cashback to premium subscribers. The goal? Aligned interests and, ultimately, a win-win for all. To be continued...
This article provides a summary of the 'Gated Content' trend that is discussed in detail in the report titled 'The Future of Content,' which I co-authored with Quentin Franque and Benoît Zante. The report has been recently updated and can be purchased from here. You can use the discount code 'Sesameouvretoi' to avail a 30% discount.