Enabling an ad-free Internet with Scroll co-founder Sachin Doshi
Samsung NEXT portfolio company Scroll is working to solve two undeniable problems with web publishing today, according to co-founder Sachin Doshi. The first is the challenge publishers face in trying to make money from advertising. And the second problem is to control the pop-ups, auto-play videos, and other intrusive ads that generate revenue but disrupt the user experience.
Scroll, which was in beta for about two-and-a-half years, recently opened its service to the public. It’s providing a new business model for web publishers that is premised on charging consumers a monthly fee. For $5 a month, subscribers can access ad-free content from Scroll media partners. In turn, Scroll shares some of that money with publishers.
In this episode of the What’s NEXT podcast, we speak with Sachin about how his company works with publishers to provide an ad-free web to readers, how the economics of subscription work for media partners, and what Scroll has in store for the future.
Making the economics work
Publishers who partner with the platform are able to detect Scroll subscribers and serve ad-suppressed versions of their web pages to those users. And while it’s easy to understand the consumer benefit of an ad-free user experience, there are financial incentives for publishers to partner with Scroll as well.
“Based on a lot of the research we did, we see that the entirety of the U.S. publishing industry that we would want in this network is making at most $2.50 per user per month in advertising,” Sachin says. “That’s across all of them. So just by paying out $3.50, we can beat the average by a minimum 40 percent.”
These days, Scroll reports that its partners earn an average of $46 in revenue per thousand page views — although that number is expected to decrease closer to $25 or $30 as the network grows. Comparable advertising revenues on a non-Scroll platform might be between $5 to $20 for the same number of page views.
Learning from experience
Sachin brought a keen understanding of the pain points related to user experiences from his former role as vice president of content and distribution at Spotify. He understood how iTunes and streaming had disrupted the music industry, and how to monetize this new approach to accessing music.
Sachin teamed up with Tony Haile, the founding CEO of the analytics firm Chartbeat, and a third co-founder, Kushal Dave, former senior director of engineering at Foursquare, to apply this experience to the publishing industry.
“I saw similarities,” Sachin says, noting that if music was his “emotional passion,” he could apply the lessons he learned from it to journalism as an “intellectual passion.” But the publishing industry has its own hurdles, including lack of scarcity, constant mergers and acquisitions, and changing distribution in the market.
“I think ad-blocking is sort of the clearest analogy to piracy, but there are other factors for why publishers have struggled,” Sachin says. “With media, it’s a little bit different… the content had been made available for free, but even if you put up a paywall, even if I can’t reasonably get access to a particular article that I might otherwise be interested in, I could get that information somewhere else.”
Building a better interface
The fact that users can easily access content regardless of paywalls is part of why Scroll’s model also relies on building loyalty through positive user experience. Scroll’s core strategy relies on distributing more money to its partners than their own advertising can generate on its own. And by offering a faster, cleaner internet experience to users, Scroll also incentivizes users to keep browsing.
“Not only can we generate more revenue than you would’ve made from advertising, we can actually help you drive subscriptions as opposed to cannibalizing them,” Sachin says. “Everything that we’ve seen suggests that people, as they get a better experience on these sites, will engage more. The more they engage, the more they will start to become loyal to a certain set of brands.”
By offering a means to generate user loyalty and engagement, Scroll is emerging as a catalyst for helping publishers connect with subscribers they care about most, Sachin says. It’s only after a user spends enough time on a website that an ask for a subscription will pop up — and that’s more likely to happen if the user wants to stay on the site rather than leave it.
Ultimately, Scroll offers a strategic and a financial benefit to publishers, as well as a better user experience. It solves some of the major problems of web publishing while advancing a new model that changes how users experience the internet. While most of Scroll’s current users are early adopters, the future looks attractive to anyone who knows how powerful a better experience can be.