AMP: Supporting Paywalls and Subscriptions

The AMP Project is about making the mobile web great for users, content publishers, and technology players to create a better ecosystem. A key aspect of that is to ensure publishers producing high quality content can leverage their existing business models with AMP. For many, this means supporting logged-in subscriber access while allowing anonymous users to get a taste of premium content. This could be as simple as a user being able to access a few articles for free each month, or something a lot more complex like having a user go from sampling a few stories to signing up and subscribing to paid content. Enabling these business models in a world where content can be distributed widely and is expected to render instantly is critical to the AMP Project’s success.

Since the announcement four months ago, the publisher and technology community has been busy working together to find creative, extensible solutions that support publisher business models of today, as well as enable innovation, experimentation, and flexibility to try out new approaches to content distribution and subscription-supported publishing of the future.

The challenge: Every paywall is unique

One of the great challenges to designing a paywall solution is the wide range of strategies that publishers employ to control access to their content. There are different identity and authentication systems and many approaches to user management and access control. In addition there are a host of different payment options, subscription product offerings, single sign-on solutions, geo restrictions, etc. With AMP, pages need to be able to load on any domain (e.g. a AMP page can load on in a secure manner while preserving user privacy. The lack of commonality in how various publishers achieve these objectives today meant that it was very hard to build a unified system within AMP for addressing all of these needs.

The solution: AMP proposes, Publisher disposes

Working with publishers was critical to the Project’s efforts, and the past 3 months have seen some amazing collaboration between publishers and technologists from all over the world.

“Paywalls are one of the most complicated experiences to build in digital media today, especially on mobile. At The Post, we built out our own system so we could easily tweak and optimize our model and experience based on what we learned from readers. It was great to work with the AMP team and broader publishing community to coalesce around a flexible system that would allow us to implement the rules we need to for our business and retain the ability to change them as we need.”

– Julia Beizer, Director of Product, The Washington Post

For many, this was new territory, and the open exchange of ideas and discussion of issues helped arrive at a set of principles to guide the solution:

  • Users should be able to access content instantly, anywhere. When needed, they should be able to log in securely to a trusted source. The user experience on AMP should be seamless.
  • Publishers should be able to decide how their content is distributed – in particular, at the very granular level of which user sees which article based on which conditions. Publishers already have complex systems to address these variations, so re-using these systems would be both effective and efficient.
  • Surfaces that display AMPs (websites, apps, platforms) should not have to deal with additional complexity arising from subscriptions and paywalls. In fact, the surface should have little knowledge of the fact that the page is paywalled or subscription controlled.
  • The solution should be open-source, in keeping with the philosophy of AMP.

With these principles in mind, we designed a solution based on an orchestration between the publisher, the document, and the AMP Runtime:

  • Paywalled and subscription documents have special AMP markup to indicate sections that are visible to different types of users, such as anonymous vs. subscribers.
  • When the AMP document loads, the AMP Runtime asks the Publisher for instructions on how to show the document, which the publisher typically bases on the user type.
  • The AMP Runtime puts together the publisher instructions with the document markup to show the user exactly what the publisher intended. For instance, this could mean showing full content to a subscriber, a metering message to an anonymous user, or a snippet followed by a subscription upsell message to a user who has exhausted their metered quota.
  • In cases where the document asks the user to log in or sign up, the user is taken to the publisher’s website to complete this process. This keeps the publisher in control of its  users’ data and any related financial transactions.

We spent many hours with the Google AMP team trading ideas about how to design a sustainable subscription model that worked within the AMP experience. Our months of collaborative and creative work have ensured a great experience for our readers on AMP pages and at the same time support our business goals by directly integrating AMP with our metered subscription model.

– Kate Harris, Product Director, Mobile at the New York Times

This solution is now available as part of the AMP project, with documentation and examples on GitHub to help publishers get started.

“AMP’s paywall implementation is crucial for publishers of quality contents. Google’s AMP team has come up with a system able to address most of the configurations, from metered paywall to freemium models. From the parameters of the conversion mechanism to the rendering of a page served to a subscriber, the whole system can be fine-tuned in multiple ways. This should vastly improve the potential for  monetization as roughly half of the audiences have now shifted to mobile.”

– Frederic Filloux, editor of Monday Note and part of the DNI Publishers’ Working Group on behalf Groupe Les Echos (France)  

Going Forward: : Continuing to enhance access and discoverability for subscription content

While the AMP Project collaboration has resulted in a strong foundational approach, there is still a lot of work ahead to move premium monetization beyond the status quo. We believe the AMP Project will fundamentally change how users discover and consume content, and we’re hard at work as an industry to  make subscription content a first-class citizen in this journey.

Posted by Ashwin Limaye, Product Manager for Accelerated Mobile Pages

Join us for a Hangout on Air covering AMP Paywalls on February 12 at 9am PT, hosted by the Google News Lab.

AMP: Supporting Paywalls and Subscriptions

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