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How the biggest network on the internet belongs to publishers

The internet changed the rules of the publishing game, creating an ad‑funded and user data‑centred environment. Expecting things for free has become internet orthodoxy; advertisers make it possible. The same content is available from multiple sources, so it’s not worth anything. The user journey is driven by others through search and social platforms, so “optimizing” a product to meet their requirements is essential. Success, or at least slowing the pace of decline, is defined by maximizing page impressions.

Thinking like this has become axiomatic for many publishers, even while its flaws are obvious. It does not deliver sustainable revenue and it fails consumers by offering them “free” sites crowded with intrusive advertising, clickbait and fake content. It even works against advertisers, who are associated with customer fatigue and face a complex, opaque market.

Media businesses are struggling at the same time as being more popular, relevant and societally important than ever.

The great hope is subscription – but only a single‑digit percentage of audiences are prepared to pay for one. While some have been successful, for others churn rises. Perversely, the more someone is worth currently to the market, through their subscriptions, the less potential there is for that value to grow. I have watched this develop over decades and see a market ripe for disruption.

I believe there is a new orthodoxy for content creators based on consumer payments. But we have to look at the problem through the eyes of the consumer. When we do, a different vision emerges. Payment needs to work in the way consumers behave in real life. Offline, consumers make casual payments all the time. So why not for digital content?

To deliver this vision – to move to a world in which payment is more common, even ubiquitous – two things need to happen. First, the price and process of paying must be frictionless enough to attract casual readers and viewers. Even one extra click is too many. Second, the product itself needs to be good enough to justify the first payment and hence bring consumers back for more.

The first is a technical problem that we believe Axate has solved. Our system is incredibly easy to use. Once a user is signed up, every other publisher in our network is one click from monetizing that same consumer. Our model creates a link between publishers and consumers that doesn’t have an economic dependency on existing internet platforms, yet equally does not compete with them in selling advertising inventory. The second is simply good news – literally. Investment in good content, well marketed (perhaps via Google and Facebook – their core business), drives revenue.

Consumers need a system that works everywhere. No logging in, signing up or entering payment details separately for each publisher. A user who spends money with one publisher is ready to spend with any other. If they are attracted by the products, they can spend their (small, spontaneous, uncommitted) money with any of them. The more they spend, the more they’re worth to the market. They don’t have to promise in advance to spend anything at all.

It’s a startlingly simple vision: Allow publishers to set the right price for their products and make every user a potential, frictionless customer. Focus on producing and marketing the best products, with revenue directly linked to the popularity you achieve.

It creates a market driven by active user behaviour and without structural caps or blocks. Apply this thinking to the billions of interactions consumers have with media every day and you’ll be able to see how big, and how easily within reach, is the opportunity.

Dominic Young, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Axate