How Slate Used Data to Effectively Launch a Paywall Model

With insights from Amplitude, the online publication drove explosive growth in subscriptions

500%

Increase in subscriptions

While paywalls have become a favored business model for news outlets seeking to stay competitive in an increasingly challenging publishing climate, asking loyal readers to become paying members can still be a risky move.

But when Slate opted to launch its own paywall as a way to continue to diversify its revenue stream, it took comfort in knowing it had a powerful ally: Amplitude.

The online magazine had already come to rely on Amplitude’s time-saving product intelligence offerings for a range of editorial and business decisions. So it was confident the platform would provide the data needed to support its business strategy, including user eligibility, traffic, and conversion rates.

“Within months of launching its new paywall, Slate saw “phenomenal growth” in its memberships”
Mark Morgioni, the publication’s Senior Director of Research and Data

And Slate has already begun using Amplitude to tackle other new initiatives, such as boosting retention and developing a plan for custom pricing.

“Amplitude has really added value across every aspect of our business in a way that I hadn’t previously seen. It has just enough of everything so we’re able to use it everywhere.”
Mark Morgioni, the publication’s Senior Director of Research and Data

A data-driven organization

By the time Slate launched its metered paywall, the publication was already using the platform across a wide swath of its operations, having shifted to Amplitude from Omniture (acquired by Adobe).

“To me, the biggest differentiator between Omniture and Amplitude is the ability Amplitude offers to create custom charts in the platform with really no technical background. Amplitude offers the combination of ease of instrumentation and the ease of answering questions.”
Mark Morgioni, the publication’s Senior Director of Research and Data

Now, the editorial team uses it to understand content consumption, the product team for insights into user behavior, and the business team for client reporting.

Best of all, Mark said, because Amplitude is so user-friendly, these teams can access this information without the help of his team. It’s the difference he said, between helping to “validate and confirm that assumptions are correct versus doing all the work of building out the dashboards.” That’s translated to a tremendous saving of time, allowing Mark and his team to focus their efforts on solving thornier questions.

Now that other stakeholders can get the answers they need from Amplitude without his team’s help, Mark said, “we’re able to build models to answer a lot more complicated user-level questions like predictive models for user churn.”

“The best thing about the platform is that I don’t have to spend a lot of time in it. It is invaluable to me.”
Mark Morgioni, the publication’s Senior Director of Research and Data

A paywall done right

To ensure the paywall would be more profitable, Mark and his team turned to Amplitude to prepare, using it to understand questions such as how many users would be eligible for a variety of different paywall scenarios, how much traffic might be lost—and how that varied platform to platform—and what kind of conversion rates Slate could expect based on the strength of its legacy premium product.

Slate’s editorial team also used Amplitude to consider the implications of a paywall on its content strategy. For example, the team used Amplitude’s Cohorts and Engagement Matrix to understand how various types of users might run into the wall. One significant finding: they discovered Slate’s loyal, advice-column readers were the readers most likely to encounter the paywall.

“Those columns also monetize the worst of any of our onsite content. So it was a very clear decision to not worry about those users hitting the wall, both because Amplitude data suggest they’re more loyal than other readers, and because a page view there is worth less, in terms of an ad-monetized page view, than another page on the site.”
Mark Morgioni, the publication’s Senior Director of Research and Data

The work paid off. In a few months of launching their paywall, Slate saw subscriptions shoot up by 500 percent, outstripping the magazine’s expectations. After the initial launch, Slate was able to continue to lower the wall using Amplitude’s data to project future conversion rates and user behavior.

Drawing on user data, a new way to drive retention

Now that Slate has signed up more subscribers, it’s looking for ways to keep them coming back. 

To do this, Mark and his team are using insights afforded by Amplitude to enrich Slate’s data ecosystem, helping the publication make pricing and packaging changes to prevent churn and improve retention.

Amplitude’s out-of-the-box identify resolution and data enrichment, Mark said, have enhanced Slate’s data ecosystem, making them more effective, and valuable. “We’ll be able to make a stronger set of decisions than we would be able to use with just any one analytics partner.”

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