How Zette plans to let people access paywalled news with a single monthly subscription • TechCrunch


A new startup wants to help online media make money by making it easier for consumers to access paywall-protected content without being locked into multiple subscriptions.

Demo as part of the program Battlefield 200 Set at TC Disrupt this week, oil He is trying to achieve something that others have tried before. Since the dawn of history (well, at least since the advent of the web), digital media companies have sought new ways to make money. While traditional newspapers and magazines’ path to monetization has been relatively straightforward, insofar as they charge money for a physical product (usually filled with paid advertising), the online field has had to flirt with many forms, from advertisements and events, to – in a manner growing, It seems Payment barriers.

But while the paywall promises a clear and predictable income, it’s hard to scale outside of major outlets like the New York Times. People don’t want (or can’t afford) dozens of subscriptions, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to pay Something To access individual articles if they are given the option to do so.

There are already subscription-based services Like Apple News +which collects stories from hundreds of publications and pay-per-article alternatives like Blendle, which allows publications to charge microtransactions for reading articles once. Zette falls somewhere in the middle, and charges a monthly subscription of $9.99 to access 30 articles from its partner publications, although it also deals with different pricing plans for those who want to buy more credits. However, if the user does not consume credits in a given month, this does not carry over to the next month – everything resets.

The story so far

Founded in San Francisco in 2020 by former Forbes reporter Yehong Zhu, after raising about $1.7 million in seed funding last year, the company is officially hitting a private beta this week for waitlist members, ahead of an expected public launch early next year. general. Currently, Zette has signed deals with New Scientist, Forbes, McClatchy, Boone Newspapers and Haaretz, with plans to boost this with “hundreds” more next year.

How does he do all that work? Well, the user downloads and installs a browser extension, sign up for a Zette account and subscription, and when Zette detects a paid wall on a partner website, it invites the user to open the article by paying one credit.

Zette in action Image credits: oil

The company said it is also considering allowing users to replenish some of their credits, although there is a time limit on when they need to be used before.

Perhaps the crucial point worth noting here is that unlike something like Apple News+, rather than acting as an aggregator, Zette’s offering to publishers is that they can maintain their relationships with their readers, given that their content remains on their website.

“Publishers control the display and messaging of their own content, unlike the Apple News ecosystem,” Chu said. Readers can open an article from anywhere — Twitter, Facebook, Google, iMessage, Slack, and the news sites themselves — and still use Zette to open the article.

The Zette will focus exclusively on the US market initially, but has aspirations to launch in international markets as well.

“We are an American company that focuses first on American readers,” Chu said. “We are investing heavily in marketing and growth, particularly in terms of getting our younger readers — Generation Z and Millennials — on board.”

business model

Maybe there are some flaws in this kind of models. The benefit of subscribing to a live post is that while you may not enjoy everything in it, you will likely find some articles that you like. With the subscription-based pay-per-article model, you never know if you’ll like it before committing credits to the cause. Moreover, you may not stumble upon 30 paywall articles in a given month that you want to read. So for paying $10 a month, some subscribers probably won’t get value from that.

There are some elements of the Blendle model that make the most sense. There is less pressure on the reader to consume a set number of articles per month, because it is built on individual micro-transactions – put money in your account, and use it whenever you want. But while this may be a more consumer-friendly model, it doesn’t necessarily benefit the publication or company behind the technology. According to Zhou, this type of business model only encourages “intermittent use rather than sustainable readers,” which ultimately leads to an increased rate of business disruption and poor monetization.

“We also believe that consumers tend not to enjoy the experience of having to put a dollar and cent value on every article they want to read,” Chu continued. This “makes them feel” nickel and is faint. For this reason, Zette has taken inspiration from video games, where you buy bundles of ‘virtual currency’ up front for in-app purchases: we exchange cash for credits to keep the customer from feeling like buying. This makes each transaction less frictionless, and also makes it easier to top up each month. We believe that A microtransaction-like experience on the front-end, and recurring revenue on the back-end, is the best of both worlds.”

Moreover, while there are benefits to a traditional news subscription — such as the ability for readers to consume everything from sports and politics in a single publication — not everyone wants to read newspaper cover to cover.

“Traditional news subscriptions serve one audience very well: many readers,” Chu said. “These are readers who hit subscription walls often enough and frequently that they decide to become paying sponsors for single outlets. The majority of online readers are light readers: they browse the news, they only want to read one article at a time so they can’t From justifying the cost and inconvenience of subscribing to a subscription, they are relatively unbranded, they are price sensitive, and they largely look for a variety of content, rather than just getting all their news from a single post.”

In addition to the browser extension, Zette is also working on a mobile app, which should be ready by the time Zette opens to the public in early 2023.

For now, though, Zette said it’s starting to open access to a small percentage of users from its queue who will have free access for the rest of this year, though they’ll be tasked in return with providing feedback to the company about ways to improve. . the product.

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