The Covid pandemic has inspired entrepreneurs around the globe to look at the world’s problems from a fresh perspective. It could be that some of the companies that dominate the coming decade have their roots in this period of uncertainty.
One startup that is a child of pandemic is Singapore-based Few¢ents. It has developed an innovative solution that aims to help publishers extend their reader revenues by collecting micropayments from readers.
It is not an entirely new concept, but Few¢ents is approaching the problem in a unique way and has some interesting ideas about how the future of paid for content could evolve.
Here he talks about the inspiration behind the company, what he thinks are the key problems for publishers and how Few¢ents plans to tackle them.
Tell me the story of Few¢ents. When were you set up and what were the key challenges you were trying to solve?
So Few¢ents is what we call internally a Covid baby. The problem that we identified was because of Covid, we built the solution during the pandemic, and we launched in the last month (August 2020) during the crisis.
The key problem for many online publishers is that they spend so much time getting traffic on their site just so that they can distract the traffic and move it away with an ad click. And that has been the main route to revenue for a long time for online publishers.
This indirect way of earning revenue is something that was challenged deeply during Covid and most publishers saw ad revenue decrease, sometimes by as much as 90 per cent.
So the default that most publishers went towards was putting up a subscription paywall. And that in itself is challenging because the consumer wallet is fixed for subscriptions.
What I mean is that the consumer has maybe one or two subscriptions, and God forbid if you are the third publisher on the priority list, then you are not getting that customer subscription. So subscriptions have an actual ceiling. Even the New York Times has hit a ceiling.
This is especially true for international audiences. Let’s say, for example, that the NYT has a huge amount of traffic from India. But these readers are not going to subscribe to the New York Times.
So what’s missing in this whole equation is something which allows consumers to take baby steps towards becoming loyal readers of a particular publication. A system to unlock one article at a time, so they start getting used to that publisher, and then eventually if they think ‘well this is well worth it,’ they end up subscribing.
A bridge to subscriptions is what we have built at Few¢ents, and this bridge allows a consumer to unlock one article at a time for a few cents, as the name suggests, and that builds loyalty for the publisher.
So how does the process work? I understand it is based around a digital wallet. But what is the experience for the consumer?
The consumer experience is fairly simple. They discover Few¢ents as a payment method on the publisher’s site when an article is locked. The user sees the Few¢ents tab and they simply have to sign up using Gmail or Facebook to unlock that article.
We give them credit, and at a future date, the customer is expected to top up the Few¢ents wallet, so that they can pay for the articles they have already read as well as can pay in advance for the future articles they are going to read across multiple publishers who are using Few¢ents.
Other companies have experimented with micropayments in the media before and haven’t been particularly successful. Why do you think that Few¢ents has got it right this time?
Few¢ents is different. Micropayments have been around for a long time, every app store uses micro payments, iTunes is using micro payments. The difference is that the App Store and iTunes is a federated content pool where multiple publishers come together. And the app store allows the publisher to monetise that app right using micropayments.
So, a federation works better than syndication. Syndication is what Medium and Blendle do. I think this type of syndication, or aggregation, has challenges because Medium has had to go out and get a lot of subscribers themselves in order to do a revenue share with the original content provider.
Yet publishers want traffic coming to their site, not anyone else’s. In essence, the content needs to be distributed, but all that content across multiple publishers needs to be tied together by a common payment system.
So you can think of Few¢ents as the PayPal of digital goods. PayPal is usually used by ecommerce sites, but Few¢ents is specifically for digital goods and micropayments.
So you could expand beyond just the media or if you wanted?
Yes. We are starting off with largely news or text based publishers, but very aggressively moving into video. For example nba.com has a huge audience from The Philippines, who are not eligible to subscribe to nba.com. But they could buy specific highlights of a particular game.
So the formats are multiple; ebooks, audio books, emagazines, texts podcasts, anything that falls under the digital goods umbrella.
From the publishers’ perspective, they obviously get the revenue, but do you share data with them as well?
So the publisher gets to see who is unlocking which content from which geography, at what price, and they get to see that in real time. We are also able to inject that data into the publishers analytics or CRM system. We share all of that data with the publisher, and it is very well covered within our GDPR and privacy compliance processes.
So how do you think paid for content generally, and Few¢ents specifically, will evolve in the future?
There are two types of content overall, there’s tabloid, and then there is really well thought out intelligent content.
I feel that new rooms are changing. If reader revenues are the way forward, then newsrooms have to change, and they are changing quite rapidly to come up with premium content – detailed analysis long form content.
And this is the future. The good news is that because of Covid the audience has realised that good content is not cheap and it’s not free.
Readers are ready to pay as long as the journey to make that payment is simple and fast, they don’t have to log in multiple times and they don’t have to enter credit card details multiple times etc. It just flows seamlessly from the wallet. The money is transferred to the publisher and the content gets unlocked.
I think the other layer which has been missing from micropayments is the currency piece.
I could be reading the Wall Street Journal from India, and in that case I need to see the price and I need to pay in my local currency not USD. I want to pay using my local bank, not necessarily credit cards. The world doesn’t have as many credit cards as people think.
So the moment a publisher goes beyond that core geography, they have to start thinking about the Fintech layer for micro payments, which becomes very critical to monetise the global audience, and that’s where Few¢ents can help publishers scale global audiences.
Given where you are in the world I suspect cryptocurrency could be something you consider in the longer term?
Definitely. Some publishers are ready to accept crypto. We are happy to introduce crypto as a new currency. Today we are dealing only with fiat currency – we have 52 currencies on our system today, but crypto just could be another one.