If you haven’t already heard, the country of Slovakia has a national paywall. And it’s defying expectations.Piano Media, headed by Tomas Bella, has created a one-access paywall for nine of the country’s largest publishers, giving subscribers access to 34 different websites. It’s the cable TV-style of payment that I’ve been evangelizing for a while now.There was much resistance to the paywall— more so from jaded publishers than paying subscribers. But Piano seems to have cracked the code:
- Make the service a “one-fee, all-access” service. Bella found that news readers really hate pay-as-you-go Models.
- Limit free comments to a certain number every month. This not only minimizes spammers and offensive remarks (which makes for less work for publishers) but also raises the level of debate.
- Let publishers commit on a monthly basis at first and focus on changing user behavior/expectations of what news costs before exploring pricing options.
- Create a revenue Model that reflects your users’ preferences for news.
In regards to the last feature, Bella found that many subscribers were wary that a one-access payment system would support publications they didn’t like or had an opposing political/world view. But actually, according to the Columbia Journalism Review, “a third of each fee goes straight to Piano, a third goes to the site where a subscriber signs up, and the remaining third is divided up according to where a reader spends their time (with time spent in comment forums excluded). If a subscriber does not want to support a particular news organization, all they have to do is never visit its sites.”Of course, Piano Media benefits from the fact that Slovakia is linguistically-isolated; subscribers can’t go to another country’s news source for news in Slovak. Even Google News is absent in Slovakia. But Piano Media has since branched into Slovenia and intends to start paywalls in four other European countries by the end of 2012. Whether Piano Media ends up being a torch-bearer or red herring for American media is uncertain, but their success does seem to indicate that small European countries may be the best incubators for paid content innovation.