Future-Proofing Subscriptions: Thriving in the AI News Revolution

Digital media industry leaders face a new wave of transformational technology: artificial intelligence. As digital ad scarcity grows, digital paywalls are revenue bedrock for many news publishing companies, but generative AI is now actively subverting this and posing an existential threat to journalism.

Search generative experiences like ChatGPT can provide instant news summaries to readers by quickly culling from all content on publisher sites, even when it’s restricted to premium subscribers. Some AI tools even drive users away from search engines and browsers that, so far, have delivered traffic directly to publisher sites in ways that are critical to publisher revenue generation across both advertising and subscription funnels.

Reactions to the challenges presented by synthetic media have been scattered industry-wide: while AP moved to protect their intellectual property by inking a deal with OpenAI to directly license news content harvesting, digital subscription pioneer The New York Times banned the practice altogether. Fearful about copyright infringements, increased public distrust, and their survival at-large, ten global media organizations and the Authors Guild also demanded accountability for generative AI tools from big tech companies like OpenAI and Microsoft.

Publishers can fight for regulations and revenue kickbacks, but they can also take more immediate, on-site action to preserve profitability and protect their hard-won relationships with subscribers. The key is prioritizing the right paywall security.

Why Can Generative AI Break the Paywall Barrier?

Generative AI tools can mine data and undermine content-based revenue by leveraging at high speed what everyday techies have for years: getting around the JavaScript programming language. JavaScript is used by the majority of websites, and for digital publishers it’s proven especially useful for its scalability, diverse device compatibility, relatively cheaper accessibility, and user responsiveness in collaboration with other scripting languages or tech integrations.

Because resonant experiences are critical for user acquisition, subscription renewal, and overall revenue optimization, the interactivity and natural visual logic JavaScript serves to users has made it an unsurprising favorite for digital publishers.

It is also one of the primary coding languages used on Google Chrome, a browser holding a market share upwards of 60% with billions of users and a primary funnel for publishers delivering content to news consumers. One way paywalls work is by using coding languages to order page and permissions data in a search engine and browser like Chrome; if a consumer has searched for content, then loads a page through that browser, they will be directed to content with a particular coded experience. If they don’t have the right access permissions, the paywall data loads first. With the right tech knowledge, however, some users can relatively easily disable code like JavaScript and access content without paid permission. Now AI functionalities can rapidly track data patterns and coding languages within dynamic content experiences across the internet to circumvent paywalls and automate content extraction or web scraping at-scale.

Today, the ease with which AI data mining can happen behind the paywalls that JavaScript powers and the increased dependence on subscriber revenue both point to the urgent need for publishers to adapt their paywall security practices well beyond a standardized model.

CDN-based Subscription Experience Platforms Could Pave the Future

Restricting articles via JavaScript isn’t the only strategy available to publishers. The most resilient, innovative publishers of the digital era have already relied on dynamic, integrated tech stacks and creativity to thrive amid rapid digital changes and economic upheaval; these practices will serve them again today.

Publishers who are future-proofing their paywall security are investing in subscription experience platforms that leverage content delivery networks, or CDNs. A CDN diversifies servers and blocks content scraping by requiring user login before the content will populate.

Intelligent paywalls with modifiable security mechanisms unique to the brand’s needs can help publishers retain subscribers for the long term while maintaining exceptional personalized user experiences. Custom security measures are also harder to breach, and they no longer come at the prohibitive price points or bulkier implementation and maintenance practices required a decade ago.

Compared to having to manually code solutions that block AI from crawling sites, a CDN-based subscription experience platform provides faster multimedia performance capabilities and personalization on the user’s end, and more complete, real-time content security on the brand’s side.

The Right Paywall Solutions Secure Revenue Returns

Relationships with subscribers and subscription revenue returns alike improve with strong, timely, and custom paywall security. The Boston Globe proved back in 2019 that innovative paywall protections at the points of need really pays off: by simultaneously hardening a metered paywall and stopping a user workaround, the publication tripled subscriptions from the tightened restrictions and saw a 4% subscription increase from users who hit the new security measure.

Agile leaders in the digital publishing industry know it’s not enough to stick with the same standard tech stacks and practices. Instead, they embrace new strategies and technologies that empower them to flourish in an increasingly complex digital ecosystem.

While legal agreements are likely to be made to keep the digital publishing industry viable at-large, fail safes are a smart choice for individual brands looking to get ahead. Now is the time to implement and experiment to stay competitive. Publishers who invest in adaptable tech stacks and intelligent paywall solutions that are right for their brand’s unique needs will thrive, even when faced with new challenges.