Digital Publishing Guest Columns
4 mins read

In showing altruism, publishers can also secure their futures


During these uncertain times when the public is searching for answers, readers and advertisers alike are reminded of the true value of honest journalism. Legitimate publishers who have invested so much in talent and infrastructure can do original and researched reporting. They are enjoying the spotlight, as opposed to aggregating other news sites or relying on unreliable user-generated content. Publishers are seeing a marked increase in engagement with their readers, because readers are going to trusted sources to get information.

Journalistic institutions are pillars of society and believe in giving back, and that was evident in March as major publishers dropped their paywalls as a temporary measure in order to pursue the public good of reporting on coronavirus without impediment. It’s a public service they’re providing, but to offer that reportage while asking nothing at all in return is short-sighted. Publishers have, at their fingertips, a simple request they can make of readers that is non-intrusive and will help secure the future of publishers: an email address.

Email as the Ultimate Value Exchange

Many mainstream publications have turned to paywalls in recent years, including The New Statesman and The Spectator. But, an interesting case study is the Washington Post. During the heyday of ad-blocking, if the Washington Post saw a reader using an ad-blocker, they would cut off access to content unless the reader submitted an email address. Why? Because the value of an email address to forward-looking publishers is so much more valuable than simple short-term revenue, and there are few publishers more forward-looking than the Washington Post.

What did they know that enabled them to ask for this trade-off? Well, for one, even in 2015, the Washington Post knew that targeting people was more important than targeting a device, and an email address was already rearing up to being the key to marketing to people in a mobile-first world.  

Of course, the major browsers hadn’t yet arrived at policies to phase out the third-party cookie, but even without formalized policies, the Washington Post, like the best marketers, knew the folly of relying on the third-party cookie.

The third-party cookie never worked as well as the industry liked to believe. Third-party data was used to measure the performance of first-party inventory, and attribution was biased towards a last-click model that benefited the triopoly. The third-party cookie never really worked with our mobile as a way of life society and the Washington Post knew that.

While the Washington Post may not be a traditional marketer, they still obviously have something to sell: subscriptions. And, over the past year, publishers have rediscovered the importance of selling subscriptions and embraced it as a path to controlling their destinies. 

Email as the Bridge to Identity

What publishers have discovered is that the email address, and its verification and authentication by their deployment in email newsletters, both represents the key data point and the key interaction for driving subscriptions. The insights mined from the email newsletter is the backbone of a dynamic paywall strategy.

Think about the idea behind a dynamic paywall strategy: publishers are trying to nurture a subscription from a reader by giving them just enough content that they get hooked and understand what they lose by not paying for it. The newsletter acts as a bridge, letting publishers entice customers, and determining who needs to be nurtured, and who needs to be cut off. 

Someone who rarely opens a newsletter won’t respond positively when their rare attempts to visit a news site are stymied by a paywall. It hurts the case for a subscription. However, perhaps a person who regularly reads 14 articles per month on a publication’s site would feel the pinch from a 9 article limit. Having the interaction between email and site is the key to driving dynamic paywalls so that, when the crisis lifts, publishers can use that data to drive subscriptions to those most likely to subscribe.

In order to properly administer a dynamic paywall, a publisher needs to understand its relationship with each potential subscriber. This approximation is primarily made by analysing and making decisions based on first-party data. But in a world of proliferating devices, the ability to tie that first-party data to a person and not just a device requires an email address, which cuts to the heart of identity. 

Additionally, that email address has a lot of value in a world where the cookie is going away, another long-term challenge for publishers. The email address can be used to drive up the value of advertising well outside of the email channel. 

During these months where publishers are performing a public good by opening up their coverage to the public without a paywall, they can also do themselves a favor by getting the simple asset of the email address as part of that transaction.

Brian Silver
President, LiveIntent

About: LiveIntent, one of the world’s largest people-based marketing platforms, connects 2,500 publishing and advertising brands with over 580MM verified people every month across all types of media. With the anonymized email address at the center of its identity graph, LiveIntent provides brands with solutions that help them monetize, acquire, and retain real people, even where cookies don’t work. LiveIntent is home to over 160 people worldwide with offices in New York, Berlin, and Copenhagen.