Paywall provider Piano buys cookie-beater to build a better meter

Over the last year, Piano Media has helped several dozen European news and magazine sites implement nationwide paywalls for selected content. Now it is adding a new payment model, the meter, by acquiring parts of another facilitator.

The outfit is buying software, rights and people from Vienna-based Novosense, whose technology can support New York Times-style metered free-article allowances without logging readers’ consumption count via conventional cookies.

Twenty-five publishers of 66 sites in Slovakia, Slovenia and Poland have put a small percentage of their web content into respective national payment systems operated by Piano Media. Unlike paywalls for individual news sites, which are fast being rolled out around the world, Piano currently charges a single monthly fee for access to all publishers’ material.

But, through the Novosense acquisition, there is an addition coming in December. “Some of our media partners were asking for individual systems,” CEO Tomáš Bella says (via release). Bella will call the added model “Piano Solo.”

While hard pay-or-leave systems are a spiky reader proposition, meters are finding some favor. The New York Times’ 10-free-articles meter has brought the publisher more revenue and a circulation hike without impacting web traffic.

But such meters can notoriously be cracked, for instance, by deleting the cookie files that count articles read by individual visitors. Novosense boasts an “innovative algorithm” that relies on an alternative  method of user tracking, which it does not describe.

The jury is somewhat out on Piano Media’s existing shared-kiosk system until it can disclose how many monthly subscribers it has in each of its three existing countries. But the task of corralling rival publishers into a single system is considerable — and one that would become harder in larger, more competitive countries to which Piano wants to expand.

With Novosense’s addition, Bella says: “Now individual media can move ahead on their own…without having to wait for smaller or more conservative partners to make a similar decision.”

Novosense’s service also includes some data tools for building user profiles. Piano raised €2 million in April. Acquisition price is not disclosed.