Leverage data, integrate dynamic paywalls to mix advertising, reader-centric business needs

By Håkan Hamrin

Stampen Media

Gothenburg, Sweden


The trends in the media industry are clear: Reader revenues are growing and taking an increasing share of the revenue, while advertising revenue — driven by declining print revenue — continues to decline even as digital revenues increase.

What we can establish from this trend, however, is that most media houses cannot survive on advertising revenue alone. They need to combine both advertising and reader business.

Here, I take a closer look at how you can combine these two businesses.

The most successful media companies realise the importance of creating a reader-centric business while also finding appropriate ways to maximise advertising opportunities.
The most successful media companies realise the importance of creating a reader-centric business while also finding appropriate ways to maximise advertising opportunities.

To convert readers into paying customers, editorial teams need to put content behind some form of login and paywall. Of course, this has consequences for the advertising business, as a declining advertising inventory can result in reduced revenues.

But what can publishers do to manage this?

Here are some suggestions:

1. Optimise revenue on each ad impression

With fewer impressions, it becomes crucial to ensure the highest possible revenue for each impression.

This involves optimising ad placement with viewability, incorporating various ad formats, and using the right formats for the best revenue. It also involves how one sells their direct business — ensuring that as many campaigns as possible run on all formats to better optimise revenue.

Additionally, demand plays a role. The more actors willing to buy the ad, the higher the price. Here, header bidding and connecting with the right bidders become important.

2. Leverage reader business data for pricing enhancement

For news publishers equipped with data platforms, a valuable strategy lies in leveraging collected data to fine-tune ad targeting and introduce innovative packaging. By doing so, publishers can command higher prices for ad impressions.

Examples include real estate brokers targeting homeowners or financial institutions reaching audiences interested in finance.

This kind of targeting can be done both in the direct and the programmatic business. And it should be done in both since that will give you even more possibilities to optimise revenue.

It’s a bit challenging, of course. You might need to have different solutions for them, but it’s definitely worth it in the long run.

And, with Chrome blocking third-party cookies during 2024, there is a great potential in the programmatic area for publishers to take a larger part in delivering data.

3. Audience extension

Data collected from readers can also be used on other Web sites — not just the one owned by the media company.

This way, media companies stay in control of the customer data and the information that makes deals possible. And then it’s possible to use a demand-side platform (DSP) and buy impressions on other publishers, based on that data, which means you have an extra inventory when your own isn’t sufficient.

As a bonus, the advertiser also gets higher reach due to more sites showing their ads. This is a very good example on how to combine the advertising and reader-centric sides of business.

4. Mix user experience (UX) and ads

Thanks to smart technology like AI, it’s possible to personalise ad placements based on individual characteristics.

For example, someone with a good Internet connection reading a long article might see more ads than someone with a slower connection reading short ones. This offers the opportunity to raise the ad inventory without harnessing important UX factors such as scroll depth and average time on page.

Doing this well requires good data management. Sometimes, it’s worth checking out companies that specialise in these services.

5. Put more ads in articles

Articles themselves can be a goldmine for showing more ads. When readers are really into an article, it’s often OK to put in more ads without bothering them.

Some media companies set a limit on how many ads can go in one article, but, sometimes, they realise they could actually put in more without making readers unhappy. This idea can also work well with the one above.

6. Dynamic paywalls

Another way to combine reader-centric business with the advertising business is to look at dynamic solutions for the paywall. If there’s a chance the user can convert to a paying customer, of course focus should be on making them convert.

However, if you can identify users further down the funnel who need to be exposed to the content more, perhaps there’s a way to find solutions where they can access the content. But, in return, they can be exposed to more ads and asked to share an e-mail address.


There is, of course, a lot more to be done in the area of combining these two businesses, but this gets you a bit down the road. However, down that road you will also find some challenges due to the third-party cookie depreciation. That will make it quite a challenge to use the data from your readers in the future. Luckily, there are ways to approach that challenge.

About Håkan Hamrin

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