Benita Chacko

“Micropayments can help publications gain more revenue than advertising”: ConsCent’s Sunny Sen

Launched in March 2021, ConsCent allows its users to pay per content instead of subscribing on their partner websites.

You receive a New York Times article on your family WhatsApp group, but when you open it, you realise you have hit a paywall. While scrolling through Facebook, you come across an interesting article from The Hindu, but again, there’s a paywall. Your colleague suggests you an informative piece from Business Standard, but the paywall keeps you from reading it.

You will come across dozens of insightful articles from multiple websites every day. But how many websites can you subscribe to before you are hit by ‘subscription fatigue’? Micropayments offers a solution to this issue and also helps publishers gain more revenue.

With micropayments, a reader can pay per article and doesn’t have to purchase a complete subscription of the website. In India, magazines like India Today and Outlook offer this option to their readers for a price as low as Rs 5 per article. The Hindu is also in talks with several platforms to provide this option.

Currently, there are two micropayment platforms in India that enable these small value payments - ConsCent and Few¢ents.

Launched in March 2021, ConsCent has already partnered with Outlook, India Today, Kannada newspaper Udayavani, OTT platform Epic On and podcast platform Earshot. ConsCent enables readers to access content across these platforms with a universal login. Ten other platforms are expected to go live in the next four months. They also propose to soon provide video news content.

In an interview with afaqs!, Sunny Sen, co-founder and CEO at TSB Media Venture, which owns ConsCent, says that publications can rake in more revenues through user-generated micropayments, than through advertising.

“Currently, not more than five per cent of a website’s content is behind micropayments. Once everything goes behind the paywall, micropayments will make significantly more money than ads do,” he mentions.

Sen says that on a page to page basis, it is already generating more money than ads. That is, if we consider only those articles that are behind the paywall, then they are generating far more revenues through micropayments than they would have made through ads. He predicts that in the next two years, more than 100 news companies will have micropayments enabled on that platform.

ConsCent's home page
ConsCent's home page

“Most users today discover content on social media, or while searching. At that moment, if they are asked for a one-year subscription fee, they don't want to do that. There needs to be a universal mechanism to access content. And, that is where ConsCent started. Users now can access any of our content partners and pay for any content with just one click,” says Sen.

People in India are not new to micropayments. In fact mobile payment platforms have popularised the concept. In the content universe, these payments allow publishers to monetise every single click.

“This is not limited to only news, but is also applicable for OTT, music, etc. Democratisation of payments and user-generated revenue are only possible at a much larger scale, if choice and affordability is given to the user,” he says.

Internationally, Dutch-based startup Blendle started providing this solution in 2014. But it soon pivoted away from micropayments to premium subscriptions. In an interview to a Dutch newspaper in 2019, co-founder Alexander Klöpping had said that it was yet to make profits. The concept has still not taken root in the Indian market. While many publishers went behind the paywall during the pandemic, not many are still offering this solution to the readers.

“It's just like how there is no UPI outside India. The paying power parity of a country like India is very different from the parity outside. Micropayments is a very India-centric problem, it's a very developing country problem. And, it will be addressed by a company in India trying to solve for India and for the world,” he adds.

Micropayments is a very India-centric problem, it's a very developing country problem.

With ConsCent, readers abroad can also read their favourite publications. “Our partners have launched international payments with us. We have already received money from 50 countries in different currencies. They can even have the same story priced at different price points in different parts of the world,” Sen adds.

It recently launched a ‘Pass’ system, allowing users to unlock all premium content on one particular platform by paying a certain amount. The system varies for different platforms. For example, a person can pay Rs 5 and unlock the entire premium catalog of Epic On for a day. Whereas, for Outlook Business, for Rs 75, you can unlock all premium content for 15 days.

Today, the biggest challenge for micropayments in the content space in India is the dearth of exclusive and premium content.

“Many platforms go after clickbait stories to increase their pageviews. They aren’t creating unique content. As platforms are putting up paywalls, the quality of content needs to improve. If they have to monetise content, it needs to be slightly differentiated, more important and more premium in nature. People have already started paying on the Internet, so making people pay is not a big problem,” he mentions.

Many platforms go after clickbait stories to increase their pageviews. They aren’t creating unique content. As platforms are putting up paywalls, the quality of content needs to improve.

ConsCent charges 20% of the total revenue they generate for their content partners. Sen reveals that in the last five months, ConsCent has garnered more than one lakh users. However, its biggest challenge is lack of awareness among people about this kind of a solution.

ConsCent is educating people through its social media channels. It is not spending much on marketing right now, but will soon be allocating more money to it. It will be spending on Google ad campaigns, social media campaigns and promotions on its partner platforms.

“This concept is very new. We are the first ones in the market. It takes time to create awareness. As more platforms join us in this journey to create a sustainable revenue stream from user-generated content, things will change,” Sen adds.

This concept is very new. We are the first ones in the market. It takes time to create awareness.

Currently, there are only two players in India providing this service. More players entering this space will once again mean that users have to take subscriptions of multiple platforms. However, Sen sees this positively and believes that it will only help raise awareness.

“If there are three or four more players, then there is more awareness. The more the merrier. But in the end, the company with the best technology and partners wins. We are very confident that our technology and partnerships are far superior than anybody else’s in the ecosystem,” he says.

Beyond the payments, ConsCent also provides analytics to its media partners to help them understand their users better.

“Micropayments is the beginning of a funnel that leads to understanding the user better and creating repeat users. For example, it allows you to understand who the people, buying a particular kind of content, are,” Sen signs off.

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