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Online Paywall Builders Piano Media and Tinypass Merge

If you're paying to read something on the Web, there's a good chance these guys are involved.

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Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Tinypass and Piano Media, two companies that help publishers sell their content on the Web, are combining.

The deal means that if you encounter a paywall on the Web, there’s a very good chance the combined company — which will operate under the name Piano — is going to be the one who built it. Piano says its software works on more than 1,200 sites around the world, including those owned by big publishers like Time Inc., News Corp. and McClatchy.

Trevor Kaufman, who ran Tinypass and will now run the new company, says that Piano Media was set to do $30 million in sales this year, while Tinypass was on track to do $10 million. The all-stock deal will give Piano Media shareholders two-thirds of the combined company, he says.

If you want detailed background on the two companies, head over to Newsonomics, where industry analyst Ken Doctor predicted the deal last month.

The good news for Piano is that the notion of charging for content — a seriously? notion just a few years ago — is no longer controversial. Time Inc. put up a paywall at its Entertainment Weekly property earlier this year and plans to create more for its other titles, and you didn’t hear a peep about it from the chattering classes.

The bad news is that in most cases, digital subscriptions are something publishers would like to sell, not something they’re selling in great bulk.

Kaufman predicts that will change because it has to change: “The business model for content on the Internet is broken,” he said. “It doesn’t work to just give stuff away for free and not have any premium business. That’s been the elephant in the room in the Web-content business for the past 10 years.”

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