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In 2019, Publishers Take Back Control with Subscription Success

The Rise of the Mature User

In 2019, readers got clued into the tug of war between publishers and platforms that had been stewing for years. The year began with users all over the world harboring disdain toward the platforms following the fake news fallout of the 2016 U.S. presidential election and Facebook's data-misuse scandal. This damaging shadow prompted Facebook to launch its so-called "family and friends" algorithm update in January 2018 to rebuild trust with its users. But it's been an uphill battle ever since.


Release from platform dependency meant that content diversification, new monetization strategies, and audience development became a top priority for publishers big and small throughout the year. The good news is that the chaos made user experience a top priority, too. Just like publishers, the modern content consumer has grown tired of the platforms and, in turn, is willing to find content elsewhere. And thanks to the saturation of content we all battle in the digital realm, readers are all too wary of the ways publishers and marketers use cheap tricks to garner clicks.

Users are ready to consume quality content in a way that's quick, efficient, and less obtrusive than ever before. Still, publishers need to generate revenue. Which is why 2018 didn't just shake up the platforms. It also brought back a resurgence in search, inched us even closer to a world without ads, and ushered in the rise of subscription models.

And it all makes perfect sense. The subscription model eliminates the middleman — such as the platforms — so readers get the experience and content they want, and publishers get the cash they need.

We can count this as a win for digital publishing when looking forward to 2019. Because as the modern user matures, so does technology. And with more control being put back in the hands of publishers, the way we monetize advances in maturity as well.

The Success of Subscriptions

In the past, there was a stigma around paywalls that signaled they were only sustainable for large publishers with massive audiences already in place. But with today's users maturing, subscription models are more attainable for a variety of emerging media properties and legacy names alike.

In the UK, publishers felt their own pressure in 2018 over the uncertainty of the newly instated General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Even so, subscriptions served as a driving force of growth for digital revenue, accounting for a 15% increase in revenue over the previous year according to the Association for Online Publishing.

At RebelMouse, our clients are experiencing success with subscriptions as well. The Italian newspaper La Verità, has seen tremendous growth using RebelMouse's paywall system. In August 2018, their returning visitors increased by 74% and new visitors increased by 115%! La Verità is averaging 14 pages per visitor, far above the industry standard.

DiversityInc, which is also powered by RebelMouse, has increased their traffic and captured B2B revenue behind a subscription paywall. This model works well because people want to be associated with brands by virtue of what they stand for. Within 30 days, DiversityInc was able to increase returning visitors by 76% and new visitors by 25%.

In late 2018, The New York Times made headlines at the end of its third quarter with a 200,000+ increase in paid digital subscribers, bringing their grand total up to three million. They also announced a content bundle partnership with Scribd, which could be an interesting trend to follow as subscriptions become more popular. Much like cable networks began to bundle channels into packages, digital subscriptions could follow suit.

Subscriptions and the Platform Puzzle

It's no surprise that the platforms are anxious to get their hands in the subscription game too. Both Facebook and Google debuted features in 2018 to make it easier for publishers to sell subscriptions. In April 2018, Google launched Subscribe with Google with a few partners, which allows a user's Google account to manage several different subscriptions.

A look at Subscribe with Google, from Digiday.

Facebook began testing subscription sales within Instant Articles, and reported in June 2018 that the beta program resulted in a 17% increase in signups. Facebook also held a boot camp throughout Spring 2018 with local news publishers on how to build a successful subscription business. So far, publishers' feelings about these programs have been mixed. While the new integrations may only bring about a slight lift in subscribers, there's a greater appreciation among publishers in knowing (and seeing) that the mega-platforms are making a conscious effort to help them out at all.

Is a Subscription Model Right for You?

When the digital publishing industry first emerged, there was an unspoken truth that content should be free. While this sentiment has definitely changed, the fear of losing users by gating content can be nerve-racking to publishers even in 2019.

It's important to strike the right balance between free content, subscriber revenue, and ad strategy. This is a lot to juggle for publishers who are already maxed out trying to create quality content worth reading.

An example of a subscription environment on DiversityInc.com (powered by RebelMouse).

Paywall API

RebelMouse's paywall API is available to developers to make it easy to manage subscriptions. Access to paid content is managed via subscriptions attached to email qualifiers. Click here for more information on our Paywall API.

Get Started Today

At RebelMouse, we can help you determine if a subscription model will benefit you, and then build a custom, easy-to-use paywall system that works for your site. If you're not publishing on RebelMouse, we also operate as a world-class creative agency that can help you navigate either the subscription business, or any other content strategy you may be building toward. Either way, request a proposal today and let's start working together.

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Meet RebelMouse

Build on a better platform that supports far-reaching content distribution, impactful conversion, and unparalleled loyalty.

The world's largest companies trust us to power their global, multiplatform content experience. As a platform, we're now one of the largest in the world, reaching 50+ million people every month. As a creative agency, we build mass pop culture hits that grow organically to become household names — Axios and The Dodo, for example.

We work strategically with United Airlines and many other brands to establish the new media roadmap for their future and implement it. RebelMouse was founded by the CTO who built The Huffington Post. The founding vision and mission is still the same today: to be the right new media platform for both media companies and brands. It's working exceedingly well, and we're delivering some staggering results for our clients.

Read our latest deck here!

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NEW! Beta Posts Dashboard: Filtering and Search UI Upgrade

New Filters in Posts Dashboard

We've implemented new filters that allow users to easily find exactly what they need in their posts dashboard. You can now customize your search results by:

  • Creators You Follow
  • Rating
  • Post Status
  • Post Type
  • Period
  • Sections
Here's what the new filter menu looks like:

Easy-to-Use Search Queries

In the same slick user interface, you can also create search queries and combine them with your filtered results:

  • Post Search
  • Creator Search With Ajax Autocomplete
  • Community Search

This is an exciting step forward in enhancing the editorial experience for our users. It should now be much simpler to narrow down results to exactly what you're looking for.

Here's how the workflow looks in action:

If you have any questions about these dashboard updates, please email support@rebelmouse.com.

Higher SEO Audit Scores With RebelMouse

SEMrush Reports Help Keep Our Sites Optimized for Search

Even the most brilliant and successful marketers will admit that chasing a perfect search strategy is a full-time job in and of itself. Google's algorithm is fickle at best, with frequent algorithm updates that can turn a site's rankings completely sideways.

At RebelMouse, we obsess over Google's algorithm updates and the latest SEO best practices so that our publishers can focus on doing what they do best: create quality content. This means our traffic experts work around the clock to make sure our sites are optimized for search, and are even a few steps ahead of what Google's next move will be.

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Our Obsessive Approach to Caching

Site updates appear in a flash with our cache process

When it comes to growing your site traffic and audience, we all tend to think of the same things: great content, beautiful design, fast load times, interactive experiences, etc. But one thing that often gets overlooked is the role of caching. A web cache is the temporary storage of web documents, like images, article pages, and multimedia assets, to reduce unnecessary repeat loading from a server. Any platform that doesn't focus on caching performance usually has poor uptime stats, which means that you're going to experience downtime issues.

RebelMouse obsesses over these things so that you don't have to, and that's why we're able to handle massive traffic spikes without any degradation in service. Just ask RebelMouse-powered PAPER Magazine, who recently had an article receive 20 million page views in one day (!) with no noticeable change in site performance.

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A PSA to Brands: Control Your Context

Resonate with your audience the right way

Programmatic Advertising Is a Gamble

For years, brands have relied on display ads and programmatic levers as a cheap and easy solution to spend large portions of marketing dollars. But the major frustration with programmatic advertising has always been the lack of control and transparency on where ads actually show up. And as banner blindness spreads, ad-blocking technology becomes more prevalent, and subpar or broken sites crop up at increasingly high rates, programmatic advertising will only become more expensive, unsustainable, and a huge risk.

According to a recent study from Integral Ad Science, when your programmatic ads happen to show up in high-quality environments, it could lead to a 30% lift in brand recall. But on the flip side, when your ads appear in low-quality environments, the consequences can be brutal: Ads in low-quality environments were perceived 74% less favorably, and even harshly, compared to the same ads seen on high-quality sites. Overall, users were four times less likely to think a brand cared about them after seeing the brand surface next to inappropriate content. Finding your ad in poor-quality environments creates a stronger impression among audiences, and it's not the kind of impression you want. Plus, it means that your paid marketing needs to work harder to boost your brand reputation, convert customers, and do damage control.

It's Time for Brands to Become Publishers and Take Control

As a brand marketer, you need to reclaim ownership of where and how your messaging shows up. One key way to control your context is to become a publisher. According to NewsWhip, 70% of people would rather learn about a brand through content than through ads, and 68% feel more positive about a company after engaging with the brand's content. And it's a good time for brands to go all in and create an advantage with content, too. Now, more than ever, page performance matters for audience reach, retention, and revenue. Google, along with Facebook, have explicitly made page speed a factor in search results and News Feed, while site visitors will quickly leave a page that takes more than three seconds to load. Media companies that have survived in the past with broken sites now feel the consequences of their low-performing properties due to their inability to provide solid returns to advertisers.

As a CMS platform and creative agency, RebelMouse partners with brand teams on best practices and innovative ways to build content experiences that will break through and resonate with audiences. For example, our work with United Airlines has produced a better-performing site and helped them beat out media companies to win travel search phrases for organic audience growth. Our partnership is a key reason why United Airlines' content now drives the most web engagement in their industry.

Choose Your Media Partners Wisely

If you plan to rely on media partners to place your messaging, then be selective and spend on the right context. Build direct relationships with quality publishers that prioritize the user experience and know how to pair editorial with premium advertising (in particular sponsored content) to maximize eyeballs and engagement for brands. RebelMouse powers a tight ecosystem of quality publishers, like PAPER Magazine and Motherly, that have built valuable, new media properties. We can connect brands into this network of quality sites to execute premium and effective campaigns at scale.

Build for the Future

Moving away from the inefficient world and disadvantages of programmatic advertising and creating a sustainable content marketing strategy is not easy — it takes organizational commitment, patience, and the right technologies. If you're a brand marketer, reach out and learn how RebelMouse's full-stack content marketing solution is ideal for your growth into a publishing powerhouse. If you're a media company and sell premium advertising, guide your advertising partners on how to build mutual value on your site when they're tempted to blindly toss marketing dollars on cheaper impressions.

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