Beyond The Paywall – Why Now Is The Time To Reimagine Earning From Digital Content

Cosmin Ene
4 min readFeb 19, 2023

Content creators and publishers are in trouble. Subscriptions are plateauing and advertising isn’t making enough money. At the same time new AI-based tools like OpenAI’s ChatGP and Google AI both enrich and at the same time challenge traditional news content.

It’s time for a State of the Union Address for creators and publishers – one that looks at where publishers are today – and where media, as we know it, needs to go in the future. This is the first article in a series that examines the challenges in the publishing market – I’ll provide solutions and concepts for how to change the status quo at the end of the series.

If I asked you to guess how many people in the US have a digital news subscription, what would you say? Three quarters of consumers? Half of them?

You wouldn’t even be close – just 27% of US consumers subscribe to a publishing product today. So does this mean people hate subscribing? Not necessarily.

In my ten years working closely with publishers and content creators, I’ve always wondered why certain products see huge growth in subscriptions – and then keep growing – while others reach a plateau. After all, when it comes to video streaming, a whopping 83% of people in the US have at least one subscription.

And it’s not just digital video that’s faring better. Just look at Amazon Prime, which grew from 40 million members in the US to 151.9 million in just 7 years, servicing 72% of US consumers with same day or next day delivery. People are clearly willing and ready to subscribe when they receive unique value for their money.

So when I read that three out of four US consumers don’t have a single publishing subscription, it tells me that most people just don’t want to subscribe to publishing products. Which makes it all the more bizarre to read articles positioning this data as a positive – that somehow there’s this huge, untapped market out there. If, after 15 years of subscriptions, publishers are only tapping into a quarter of US consumers, while much younger models like video and diaper subscriptions are seeing numbers three times higher, that doesn’t sound to me like there’s ‘room to grow’ – it simply means people don’t want to subscribe to publishing products.

People want to consume – they consume crazy amounts of content from a variety of sources every day – but they don’t want to subscribe. Most of the time, when I want to read an article I can’t – unless I subscribe. And that’s something the industry continues to studiously avoid: that as much as 98% of their monthly audience will never subscribe. Ever.

As it stands, publishers are not leveraging and monetizing the largest part of their audience – they’re ignoring the potential that comes with that 98% and focusing instead only on the 2%, in the process leaving a massive amount of money on the table.

So why do so many people choose not to subscribe? In the next article, let’s take a look at how news products stack up against priorities in people’s daily lives.

The total addressable market for publishing is huge, but publishers need to dare to look beyond subscriptions in order to capitalize on it.

About Cosmin

Cosmin Ene has a wide spectrum of experience in monetization for content providers. For the last 8+ years he has worked with a broad swathe of publishers – from bloggers to local media to national and international publications – including the San Francisco Chronicle, Salon, The Boston Globe, and Der Spiegel. Cosmin also has profound experience generating revenues from contributions for content creators and artists, having worked together with industry luminaries like Nick Knight. Recognizing that people’s digital content consumption habits have fundamentally transformed traditional business models, he advises publishers and content providers on how best to embrace user-centricity in order to remain profitable and to succeed in the 21st century.

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Cosmin Ene

Founder/CEO Supertab. All about giving users choice and making it easy for them to buy content.