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Dominik Butzmann

Playwall instead of Paywall

Startup Snaque enables
premium content without a paywall

Paid content is the predominant topic in the publishing industry – and rightly so. For far too long, media companies have relied solely on reach and free content on the web. Whether leading media or regional news portals: paywalls have now been established almost everywhere, allowing only registered and paying users to read articles. Has this solved the big question about the monetisation of journalistic content? Only partly. The rising subscription figures of recent years may have shown, on the one hand, that the media companies are on the right track, but, on the other hand, they quickly came back down to earth after the steep rise during the Covid-19 pandemic. The basic problem is that subscriptions alone are not enough to meet the demand of the various readers. Only about two per cent of online readers are persuaded to take out a subscription. Ninety-eight per cent of readers jump off at the paywall. So, there is a big gap between subscription users and casual readers. The MediaTech Hub start-up Snaque is now closing this gap with a new software. Snaque has created a paywall extension that allows readers to be able to read premium content without a subscription. This can be done through a short interaction with brand content placed in front of the content.

Snaque was founded by the tech PR expert Katja Waldor and software developer Henning Tillmann. Their idea for a paywall alternative also convinced the jury of the Media Founders Programme, the Media Innovation Center (MIZ) in Babelsberg, and they have since been seamlessly integrated into the MediaTech Hub Accelerator.

Swiping three times unlocks an article

Once Snaque has been integrated as a simple widget on the publishers’ websites, users are now presented with another option alongside the usual paywall versions with a subscription model or 30-day trial version. The idea behind this is quite simple: readers interact with brand content in the form of a short survey which is a kind of digital sales pitch. The article can then be activated and read, and counter-financed by the advertisers. The advertisers are then free to design the so-called “Snaque Bars” consisting of questions as well as images and logos. A travel company, for example, could ask readers about their travel preferences: “Do you like city breaks?”, whereupon the reader can either swipe in one direction for ‘Yes’ and in the other direction for ‘No’. The particular response is then followed by another question such as “Do you like travelling by plane?” or “Is nice accommodation important for you?”, which refer to the previous answers. After two or three swipes, a specially tailored offer will be presented to the reader like a city break to Barcelona.

“It’s often flashing and flickering everywhere on websites. So, we asked ourselves: who is actually still noticing this and really clicking? That’s why we created Snaque as a model where the readers can interact. We ask them about their interests and can then present a targeted offer,” Katja Waldor explains.

Users only have to answer a few questions if they want to access the article quickly and easily. For publishers, it has the advantage that they can additionally monetise their content, and advertisers place ads that are noticed and generate real interaction. Snaque achieves click-through rates averaging 15 per cent with its personalised sales pitch-based ad format. By comparison, ordinary banner advertising only reaches click-through rates of between 1-3 per cent. The advertising format’s interaction or dwell time is also 22 seconds on average.

Cross-system integration of the widget

The handling for the publishers is very simple: the widget is connected via API to either the publishers’ content management or paywall system. The publishers can decide for themselves which group of readers should be given access to the Snaque Playwall button. Segment-specific access based on the publisher’s own data is the keyword here. Snaque itself does not collect any personal data and does not set any cookies. The ads can be created in the software’s own content editor, and images and logos added by drag and drop. The complete performance (“Who activates the articles and when?”) is possible because the widget is integrated into the publishers’ paywall systems. But Snaque can itself also be used as a paywall if one doesn’t exist. Reach portals that aim to generate as many clicks as possible with their content and thus make it freely accessible, can, for example, introduce a small paywall for more extensive articles and deliver targeted advertising.

“We are not competing with the subscription model,” Waldor makes clear. “We are merely supplementing paid content with another offering and thus closing a gap.”

Easy access to information helps prevent fake news

And this gap is not only being closed in order to achieve user-friendly read access, but also as a way of guaranteeing free access to well-researched and presented information in times of fake news. The most important information is now often hidden behind paywalls, while misinformation is freely accessible throughout the Internet and is even being deliberately distributed.

One concern that the Snaque team can dispel for the media companies is that of declining subscriptions. “The publishers have complete control over how often they use Snaque,” says Katja Waldor. On the one hand, they can control when Snaque is placed in front of an article, and, on the other, the use of Snaque at the Sächsische Zeitung has shown that users able through individual articles to look more often behind the paywall are subsequently more likely to take out a subscription. The probability here has increased by sevenfold. The positive user experience makes it possible to keep readers in the sales funnel much longer for a subscription.

The response from within the industry has been very positive since the official market launch: many media companies have shown interest in integrating Snaque thanks to the positive coverage in relevant trade publications and some of them will be adding a playwall to their paywall at the beginning of the New Year. Snaque has won over specialist publishers, national and regional publishers alike and shows how there is a re-think underway on the monetisation of journalistic content.

Photo Credit: Dominik Butzmann