Waze founder teams up with Dan Rather to make paywalled content more accessible

Through a system of micropayments, entrepreneurs hope to get media consumers to pay for content they want to read from a variety of outlets, not just those they subscribe to

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Noam Bardin discussing his new venture Paygo (YouTube screenshot)
Noam Bardin discussing his new venture Paygo (YouTube screenshot)

Former Waze CEO and founder Noam Bardin is setting up a venture called Paygo Media, which hopes to become a new business model for cash-strapped digital media outlets.

In a blog post on Wednesday, Bardin said he and his partner in the venture, US journalist Dan Rather, were launching a public test of the new platform, which will allow readers to pay per article they read on any outlet via micropayments — just a few cents per article, rather than paying for a fixed subscription to a single outlet, as is often the case now.

This is how it would work: users create a paygo account into which they inject $3. When the users want to read content behind a paywall, they can anonymously unlock it with their Paygo account and read the article in a pay-as-you-go model for several cents. The balance is kept in the account for the next article. For the system to work,, content creators need to connect to Paygo to offer micropayments to their readers.

The access is “frictionless” meaning there is no need to sign up; the transactions are anonymous, and there is no personal information shared with the outlet, such as email or credit card details, Paygo Media and Rather say in another post.

The goal is to give consumers access to trustworthy content while helping publishers and other creators “better monetize the great content they produce.” It will also allow users access to a wider variety of content and ideas that don’t necessarily appear in the outlets they have paid for by subscription.

The test will evaluate whether consumers want and like this new model, how much they are willing to pay and whether the model will be meaningfully profitable for publishers and content creators.

“Like most of you, I have become more and more worried about the state of the world,” Bardin, who left Google last month, said in the post announcing the start of the pilot. “I fear that humanity has two main challenges – a hardware challenge (Climate change) and a software challenge (preserving a free, liberal, fact- and science-based society). The first is about life itself; the second is about the quality of the life we live.

“To remain (or become) a society with the free exchange of ideas and a democratic system that represents the people, we need access to truthful, fact-based information. As someone who subscribes to 8 different publications, I have grown frustrated by repeatedly hitting paywalls and being ‘locked out’ of reading opinions different from those I subscribe to. This is a problem that over 40% of Americans often encounter, as 76% of American news publishers have launched a Paywall.”

Broadcast journalist Dan Rather speaks about ‘State of the Media Today’, at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 9, 2006. (AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki)

Paywalls are essential for media outlets to survive, but they create a situation in which truth is generally behind a paywall but “lies are free,” he wrote.
“Journalism must be profitable for high-quality content to be created, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of access to truthful content,” Bardin wrote.

“Content does not need to be free, but it needs to be accessible and affordable. That is why we are launching this test: can we find a business model that is inexpensive enough for consumers to use daily yet profitable enough for Publishers to invest in quality Journalism?

“I believe that the current subscription only model is bad for both consumers AND Publishers. Consumers are locked out of truthful content, forced to pay multiple subscriptions, and have to share their personal data with every publisher just to read one article.”

Subscriptions are pushing publishers to create content for just a tiny percentage of subscribers, “missing out” on the many others who’d like to access the content but don’t want to pay for a subscription. And for those who do subscribe, the experience is often horrible, with bothersome pop-up ads, videos and email capture forms and offers.

“Why pay for a truthful, expensive, horrible user experience when you can get free lies on social media networks with a great user experience telling you what you want to hear,” Bardin asked.

The news industry is also getting highly concentrated, with the top 3 US publishers taking over 50% of the subscriptions.

Facebook and Google bring tremendous traffic to news sites, but the outlets “just don’t know how to monetize this traffic, due to a defensive/follower culture, lacking innovation and experimentation.”

“Journalism needs to be profitable on its own, not by extorting rent from other companies, nor from Billionaire contributions or government taxes. They have the most valuable asset on the web – consumer interest and engagement – now monetize it!” Bardin wrote.

Those who want to participate in the test and pay for and read content they find interesting can do so by following Dan Rather, who is creating his own content via the News and Guts website. As other creators like Rather join the initiative, users will be able to pay for articles from their content as well.

Rather, in a post of his own about the new venture, wrote that Bardin contacted his colleague Elliot Kirschner to see if he’d be interested in trying out a new tool he is developing.

“We were fans of the last tool he developed; the mapping software known as Waze which Bardin grew from a small startup to a billion-dollar business. You might have heard of it,” Rather wrote. Google acquired Waze for over $1 billion in 2013.

The new idea revolves around the premise that “right now online journalism is all or nothing. Either you get it for free or you hit a paywall that asks for your credit card, your email, and a lot of money. Even for people of means, there are only so many subscriptions you will take. But for people living paycheck to paycheck, shouldn’t there be a way to get the news they need from a variety of sources more affordably?”

“What if you could pay as you go? Want to read this article? That will be 15 cents. Want to watch this short film? That will be a dollar. Want to support a local paper that just published a blockbuster investigation? Well, you can give them a 10-dollar tip. ”

For the experiment, people can now sign up for the Paygo service and get 30 cents for free to spend on the pilot.

“I will post articles for a nominal fee, and see what you think. If you use up the 30 cents you can add a few more dollars using Apple Pay or Google Pay. The goal is to make this user friendly,” Rather wrote.

The experiment will enable the entrepreneurs to see if this is a “good idea or a bad one,” and how users will use or not use the system.

“We need data to have a go at making something that is not only new, but needed,” Rather said. “Our hope is that we will get this data from this experiment about whether this approach is viable and how it can be improved.”

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