Personalization, in Weather or Paywalls, Is Gaining Even More Steam in Our New Climate

Personalization, so prevalent in our lives, has come to climate change in the form of a free New York Times newsletter, Your Places: Extreme Weather. “To our knowledge, we weren’t aware of anybody doing it like that—where you could say, ‘Hey, let me know when one of these blobs, basically, is over a city I care about,’” said John Keefe, their editor of weather data.

“Personalization is essential to success, and content must be personalized throughout the entire subscription journey if you want to convert more users into loyal subscribers,” a Piano blog wrote recently. “Show your users that you understand them; that you’re built for them, and that they will always have access to high-quality content by continuing to engage with your publication.”

According to our 2023 B2B Media Benchmark Report on Revenue and Cost Patterns, over a third of the respondents said that new product development would be a top digital revenue growth driver in the next three years. Also in our report—its research was conducted by Readex Research—one quarter of respondents said that paid content online would be a top digital revenue growth driver.

Although the Times isn’t charging—yet—for Your Places: Extreme Weather, its new newsletter about “extreme weather risks in places important to you,” it’s hoping it engages many more potential paid subscribers. “Sign up today and we’ll let you know when forecasters see a risk of tornadoes, hail, high winds or excessive rain,” they tweeted out.

Readers can select up to four places in the continental United States and receive a morning email if there’s a risk of extreme weather in the next three days. “It’s the latest example of the Times’ push into personalized newsletters, and of the Times’ experimentation with and emphasis on weather data,” writes my new favorite media writer, Sophie Culpepper, in NiemanLab.

Although the newsletter is free, all of the links surrounding it will eventually lead readers to a paywall. You’re never quite sure these days when you click on an article if you’re going to be stopped cold, given a hint of the story, told it’s your second of three articles, or that you’ve reached your monthly quota, etc.

“Subscriber-only stories have led far more people to sign up as subscribers than the monthly limits on our other work,” one editor told us. Meter limits have tended to come down over the years, at five articles per month or lower.

Personalized Paywalls

Though not new, flexible or personalized paywalls seem to be gaining popularity. Covering INMA’s Smart Data Workshop in New York last week, Ariane Bernard wrote about Rohit Supekar, senior data scientist at The New York Times. He’s leading their “work in building an algorithm to personalize the amount of free articles a user may receive from the paywall, looking to maximize both the amount of free engagement and paid conversions.”

The model would differentiate among users, depending on where they are in their journey. It also “identifies the causal effect of free allowance.” I watched a great example of this in a Reuters interview last year with Steven Neubauer, managing director of leading Swiss newspaper NZZ.

“Many paywalls today are very static and inflexible,” he said. “[Early on], we had a number of articles you could read before you had to register. And another number of articles you could read per month before having to pay. But then [around 2014] we brought a lot of flexibility into the system.

“When you register with us, you’re going to have a different experience, see a different pay prompt than when I register with us. And we’re using machine learning today to derive different segments and to identify these patterns of preferences. We calculate a propensity score—so a propensity to buy—for each of our 600,000 registered users [or] for each of our leads every day. So the next day we know, what’s your level of engagement. How hot is this lead?

“Based on this information, we either let you surf around a little longer in the standard roll set, or when we think: ‘Okay, this guy is really hot; he’s now ready to buy.’ Then we’re going to show you your individualized pay prompt. We don’t want to interrupt the user experience on our site. We only want to ask you to pay when you’re ready to pay, in the ideal sense.”

You can get more pertinent trends and information in our B2B Media Benchmark Report on Revenue and Cost Patterns here. It’s the only real-time, empirical research being done on B2B media business operations.

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