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Decoding Piers Fawkes' Checklist To Setting Up A Subscription Business


Pierre Fawkes has been a part of the publishing industry for over 2 decades now. He is a witness to the digital revolution, even before social media existed. He is also the co-founder of WallKit, a paywall solution specifically for media publishers, and the Retail Innovation Week. 

The story began in 2004, when he moved from London to New York to pursue a writing career, and feels lucky that he turned up in New York when people had just started talking about “blogs”. No one quite knew what a blog was, there was a small community in NY which had just begun blogging. 

In 2004 though, there was a lack of information, reporting, there were mainstream newspapers, local newspapers, magazines, and there was a rising cultural change that wasn’t really being covered.

This revolution made him want to start a blog too and with time he realized people perceived his pieces more as a newsletter than a blog. Over time as his audience grew he realized that they can grow this further and add more value to it via conferences and webinars. 

After over 10 years of doing this, when Ads started to take most of the dollars away, Pierre and his team realized that the content they were creating, they might as well put a paywall around it. A very tough decision which made them loss around 90% of their audience.

Although when they did decide to monetize, they realised that they didn’t like the existing paywall system, and ended up creating their own. Although the audience had reduced, people did start paying for the content. They made slight changes in the business model and life was good. 

A year later to this he felt that there might be others in the market who’d be interested in his paywall system and decided to put it up for people. His friend and first customer - Rafat Ali, who is also the co-founder of Skift Media, basically took over the software and that’s when they created the company Wallkit.

Newsletter v/s Blog

When asked about the constant debate between newsletters and blogs and which one is better, Pierre said that they both go hand in hand -  if you need to have a successful blog, you need a strong newsletter base. Blog is the hub and everything else is like a satellite revolving around the hub.

The world has now evolved beyond the idea of a newsletter being an HTML document, its more in the form of a free flowing conversation. Just like 

Believer in the idea of media as a service

Pierre says, at one point you have to stand out. For example, sometimes you go to a particular grocery store because you like the staff and how they treat you. 

Strategy for Subscription

Segmentation - what do people want, who are the loyalists, what is their behavior potential to pay. Almost 90% of people are never gonna pay

What value do you offer them? Getting people into your CRM from where you can observe their activities 

No user ever turns up with a credit card on a publisher website to swipe for the content they want to consume, especially on a new website. But if you get them to sign up for something constant like a newsletter, you start a journey with them and over time you get more and more data around that person.

People who turn up occasionally, browsing archives, they are your best hits. Target them well and you are good to go.

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Pierre Fawkes

Pierre Fawkes

Co-founder, Wallkit and PSFK

Co-founder of two extremely successful companies, Pierre helps companies make better business. Since 2004, he has been inspiring companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google, Nike and Samsung envision and develop strategies for their futures.

His key skills involve:
- future vision, strategy and concepting esp in marketing, retail, CX
- product development (digital/media)
- business development & professional services management
- thought leadership, writing, speaking

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