User payments are split between publishers according to how much
time a subscriber spends on an individual site, with Piano Media
taking a 30% cut.
"Most of our publishers would like to see the price higher, but
to start with, we are trying to encourage impulse buying. We will
introduce more-expensive packages at a later date, but what's
important for now is that people are learning to pay for the
content," Tomas Bella, CEO of Piano Media, said. "The highest value
to us is in breaking consumer habits."
Even paying by credit card is not as common in Slovakia as it is
in Western Europe. "We've had hundreds of people asking if they can
pay by cash," Mr. Bella said. He is planning to launch SMS payments
Mr. Bella claimed that more than half of the media that joined
Piano has increased its readership since the project's launch.
Participating sites include Slovakia's leading broadsheet, SME, its
oldest daily paper, Pravda, and its biggest business weekly,
Tyzden. Participating media promoted Piano to their readers through
online and print campaigns ahead of the launch.
Tyzden, which has a print circulation of 27,000, is attracting
more subscriptions through Piano Media than it did as a solo
operation. The magazine's editor, Stefan Hrib, said in a statement,
"We got six times the number of online subscribers compared to
April, and the number of site visits remained stable."
Mr. Bella was editor in chief of SME.sk, Slovakia's biggest news
portal, until he quit last year to start Piano Media. "I persuaded
my former bosses to join first," he said, "which made it easier to
persuade the others. But it still took me a year."
Valer Kot, digital publishing director for SME, said via email,
"The number of subscribers is a pleasant surprise for us. We
experimented with paid subscription seven years ago, and with Piano
we have 14 times the number of subscribers we did then. Overall
visitor numbers in May were 5% up on April. We are confident about
Piano but we will have to keep innovating behind the paywall or
there will be no growth."
Mr. Bella said he believes that convenience is the key to
getting people to pay for online content. "Imagine if you sat in
front of the TV, paying for each show you watch or having to decide
a month in advance exactly what programs you'd watch. You would
watch a lot less TV," he said. "It's been a gamble, but we believe
that people do see the value in online content -- it's just that
the current system is so inconvenient."
Piano's success has brought interest from publishers in other
countries. "We've had a lot of requests from publishers around the
world who want to know how Piano could work in their countries,"
Mr. Bella said. "We are already negotiating with publishers in five
European countries and plan to launch Piano in a second country
after Slovakia by the end of the year."
Mr. Bella did not name the countries, but said that Scandinavia
was an obvious choice, because many of its languages are not spoken
outside the individual countries. "I'm not ruling out Germany and
Spain, but we will start with smaller countries," he said.
One happy consequence of the paywall system is the absence of
trolls from newspaper forums. "There's always a small percentage
who act like idiots and spoil it for everyone," Mr. Bella said,
"but once you ask people to pay, it's not a problem. All the idiots
leave and the normal people stay."