Scroll: digital publisher savior or false prophet?
Earlier this week, Tony Haile’s (former Chartbeat CEO) new startup, Scroll, which has been mostly underwraps for the last three years finally launched to the public. The news and commentary surrounding the launch has been exceedingly positive but I have my concerns. The positivity surrounding the launch likely stems from Haile’s success at Chartbeat, an analytics product that helps digital publishers (note: Chartbeat was a competitor of KYA, the analytics company I founded), and rightfully so, he did a great job at Chartbeat. But, I’m not sure the same magic is there with Scroll.
How Scroll works
“Basically, we were trying to think through: How would the internet have evolved if it didn’t have to rely on ads [from the start]?” Haile said. “What would the economics look like?”
The solution that he and his team came up with is a subscription where consumers pay (the price is starting at $2.49 for the first six months after launch, then goes up to $4.99 per month) for “a web that’s twice as fast, with no shadowy trackers, no ads, no pre-rolls.” Publishers, meanwhile, make more money than they would have by showing ads to those same visitors according to Haile.
Scroll estimates that a normal page view brings in $0.011 through advertising, versus $0.016 with Scroll. The company even offers a revenue calculator to help publishers confirm that they won’t be losing money. A nice touch for sure.
The problems with Scroll
I tested Scroll for a few months during the beta period and while I enjoyed the ad-free experience with Scroll [on supported sites], I often found myself on site’s not partnered with Scroll through links on Twitter and elsewhere, meaning I still experienced ads on the daily. To me, this is frustrating. If I were paying $5/month to a service to make my reading experience online more enjoyable and it only was able to work a fraction of the time–well, then it better offer me more value somewhere else. And that’s a key problem: it doesn’t.
Sure Scroll offers some nice additional features, reading lists, text to speech, pick up where you left off reading but none of those do it for me. I can get the same functionality elsewhere for free.
The company is currently partnered with 300 sites but only shows a sampling of 32 partner sites on its website. What are the other sites? It would certainly helpful for early customers to know that kind of information. But perhaps what’s even more concerning is that none of the sites I see listed as partners appear to be promoting Scroll on their sites. Why is that? If it truly provides a better experience and makes the publishers more money than ads, why wouldn’t they be telling their readers to signup?
I don’t have an answer to that at the moment but would love to find out. If I were Scroll I’d be pushing to have my service promoted to the readers of these sites to not only build a customer base but also to help publishers make more money. It doesn’t make sense to me, unless of course, they tried to get publishers to promote them and they wouldn’t. In which case, why is that?
I’m all for envisioning a better internet and I give props to Tony & Co. for building Scroll, but I don’t think Scroll as a standalone company can make it happen. I’d love to be wrong though.
For now, I’m going to keep scrolling sans Scroll.
What do you think about Scroll? Leave a comment!
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