Adaptive Paywall Mechanism for Digital News Media
Heidar Davoudi (University of York); Aijun An (University of York); Morteza Zihayat (Ryerson University); Gordon Edall (The Globe and Mail)
Many online news agencies utilize the paywall mechanism to increase reader subscriptions. This method offers a non-subscribed reader a fixed number of free articles in a period of time (e.g., a month), and then directs the user to the subscription page for further reading. We argue that there is no direct relationship between the number of paywalls presented to readers and the number of subscriptions, and that this artificial barrier, if not used well, may disengage potential subscribers and thus may not well serve its purpose of increasing revenue. Moreover, the current paywall mechanism neither considers the user browsing history nor the potential articles which the user may visit in the future. Thus, it treats all readers equally and does not consider the potential of a reader in becoming a subscriber. In this paper, we propose an adaptive paywall mechanism to balance the benefit of showing an article against that of displaying the paywall (i.e., terminating the session). We first define the notion of cost and utility that are used to define an objective function for optimal paywall decision making. Then, we model the problem as a stochastic sequential decision process. Finally, we propose an efficient policy function for paywall decision making. The experimental results on a real dataset from a major newspaper in Canada show that the proposed model outperforms the traditional paywall mechanism as well as the other baselines.