Digirati is a sponsor of Paywall Strategies 2011 which takes place on February 24 in London. In this article, Digirati Founder John Baker warns of the risks of building naive and ill thought through strategies in the rush to get a paid content solution in place.

Digirati have implemented and consulted on a number of paywalls and rights management systems for publishing organisations and it has become clear to us that this is certainly not a straightforward proposition and is full of potential risks. The process of formulating licensing models for digital content is often entered into naively by publishers where the long-term implications are underestimated in terms of future business requirements and technical constraints.

Online publishers can easily dig themselves into a hole in terms of being committed to licensing models that don’t work. Even in the cases where there are no business constraints to changing the model, often the technical solution invested in is riddled with technical constraints that can take many months to resolve. This can clearly be very damaging to the bottom line.

One thing is for certain, publishers need to keep their options open, try things out and work incrementally towards the optimal licensing models for their business. Trial and error is the only way forward and with new developments occurring all the time it is important to be open to future approaches that may soon be attractive.

So, from a technical perspective, solutions need to be designed that will fulfil long term business objectives. In this scenario, business users need to be able to switch licensing models quickly and flexibly. When a new licensing requirement comes along the system needs to be easily extended to provide it. Many existing access control and licensing implementations quickly reach an ‘end of life’ point because they cannot be easily extended beyond the original functionality.

The first decision that needs to be made when choosing your technical approach is whether to buy a product or build a customised solution. Whichever way you go, there will still be a lot of complexity in terms of development and integration work. There is no completely out-of-the-box solution for this type of functionality because each publisher presents a different challenge in terms of the unique touch points and configuration of the systems that the paywall is being applied to. A bespoke solution is not necessarily more complex to implement than a product, and just as maintainable if implemented professionally.

An existing product will obviously help you avoid reinventing the wheel, as many of the potential licensing approaches will be incorporated into that product. These products can be very expensive in terms of license cost and so this represents a significant financial commitment which many publishers either won’t be able to afford or is just not appropriate for an initial ‘toe in the water’ stage. That said, we have worked with some of these vendor technologies and the projects have been very successful. So, for companies where the time is right, and with the necessary budget, this option should definitely be considered.

For other customers though, we had to try to find an alternative approach. When we researched alternatives what we found was that there were many open source components that could be combined into a bespoke solution at a lower price point. Whilst this approach does not provide as many options out of the box, it did enable our clients to try out some initial models, and, with Digirati’s experience in delivering paywalls, we designed the system so that it would be straightforward to add further features.

The landscape will no doubt mature over time and there will be a more crowded market offering a wider variety of standardised options and price points. But for the moment, it’s a matter of marrying up business and technical considerations in such a way that is cost-effective and will enable you to be responsive within a rapidly changing environment.