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What for many skeptical media outlets is an experiment, for Piano Media it is a growing business. We have not written much about the company since it raised Euro 300 000 of seed capital in 2011, in the meantime Piano has been making good progress expanding to Slovenia and hiding premium content of previously free websites behind its aggregated paywall.
Just a quick overview before I dig into numbers. Piano, founded by Tomáš Bella, the former editor in chief of Slovakia’s biggest news portal, offers aggregated subscription system for users of online websites. The online publishers can now offer its premium content only for the paywall subscribers, or create a premium ad-free environment. The subscribers have access to over 40 websites by paying one modest subscription fee per month.
Piano then distributes the revenue between publishers proportionately to the traffic generated, and takes a commission on sales. The result is additional revenue for the publishers, which have previously offered all of its content for free.
Now some numbers that Piano Media released today.
Having launched in its second country in Slovenia in January 2012, Piano generated Euro 26 000 in subscription fees in the first month (for the participating online publishers and itself, just to be clear). In Slovenia 9 online media outlets use Piano Media’s paywall.
In Slovakia, the largest website attracts 1.6 million daily readers. On average, Slovak publishers earn Euro 1100 per 100 000 users per month. In Slovenia, where the biggest online publisher attracts 300 000 daily readers, an average earnings per publisher were almost 40 percent higher, at Euro 1500 per 100 000 in the first month of the launch. Perhaps, one reason for that is higher subscription fee for Slovenians Euro 4.89, while in Slovakia it is Euro 3.90 (the paywall also offers a more expensive weekly subscription option, and least expensive annual one, which might have affected the figures).
Here is a fascinating quote from Slovene Vesna Humar, Primorske Novice’s chief editor. “We have been able to offer better quality content online thanks to Piano. This has been noticed by our web readers who subsequently are evolving into a more loyal and critical audience. This contact is key for journalists responsible for reporting the news.”
So participating publishers are planning to invest newly generated cash into raising the bar for quality journalism, which is an excellent move from my point of view. With explosion of online content in the past years, and appearance of tools such as Apple Reader or Evernote Clearly, it might be harder to sustain ad-based business model while offering quality content.
Whilst some online platforms counter that by involving unpaid contributors, offering premium content through a paywall and well-paid journalists is another strategy that might just work even for smaller online media. As Piano Media negotiates with online publishers in 11 European countries, soon we will know if the aggregated paywall is a winning solution. Oh, and having one international paywall for the English-speaking websites would not be a bad idea either.
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vita at goaleurope dot com