Subscription Websites Testing New Grounds with Targeted Membership, Social Options

Publishers of subscription websites gain power with the ending of Google’s first-click; Facebook launches subscription option for publishers; USA Today Network testing memberships

Publishers of subscription websites are warriors. They constantly work to improve their standings, even when there are forces working against them. Up until recently, social networks and search engines were problematic areas. However, there may be some changes coming to fruition that will help subscription website publishers.

Today we’re looking at some of these stories, and we’re starting with the ending of Google’s first-click free policy. Digiday reports, “While publishers remain unhappy with the returns they get from platforms like Google and Facebook for hosting their content, the tide appears to be turning.”

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“Publishers believe Google’s removal of its first-click free model this month is the first example of the platform evolving in a way that doesn’t immediately serve its own interests. Facebook also has started tests for driving subscriptions through Instant Articles with publishers.”

The article continues with an example of what publishers may experience as first-click ends. “Since The Times of London launched its paywall in 2010, it resisted participating in Google’s first-click free policy for paywalled sites, meaning the Times effectively disappeared from Google search when it debuted the paywall. As of Oct. 21, all articles from the Times will be as discoverable on Google’s search engine as content from a publisher with no paywall.”

Our next story moves to Facebook, which appears to be making it easier for publishers of subscription websites to get subscribers. Reuters reports, “Facebook Inc (FB.O) said on Thursday it has signed up 10 news publishers including the Washington Post and The Economist to take part in a trial that gives its mobile app users access to a limited number of articles a month and then the option to subscribe via the publishers’ own websites.”

The article continues with a look at how this move may better relationships between Facebook and publishers. “The move is a shift in strategy for the world’s largest social network, which previously has tried to keep users within its own service, and may help restore its image by strengthening ties to respected news organizations after the spread of false news stories on Facebook in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”

“It may also help soothe relations with some publishers, which often see their articles widely shared among Facebook’s more than 2 billion monthly users but have found it hard to translate Facebook readers into paying subscribers.”

Our last story visits a publishing group that is testing out membership options. Digiday reports, “USA Today Network is joining the membership trend, testing offers at four of its 109 local papers that involve exclusive content and local deals to subscribers who log in on the paper’s site.”

“The memberships, which are free to people who subscribe, are part of a larger effort to grow consumer revenue at Gannett to counter declining print ad revenue.”

The article continues with the publisher’s hopes for this move. “USA Today Network is hoping to move people down the marketing funnel with the free membership tier, touting access to events, deals and extra editorial content, such as a chance to win signed copies of new books by authors including Alan Alda and Michael Connelly, a newsletter with recipes and an upcoming downloadable holiday gift guide. It’s also using the membership concept to remind people of the breadth of its existing news coverage and formats like newsletters and podcasts.”

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