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Zuora has already signed up more than 100 customers for its online software, which helps companies automate subscriptions and billing. At the spring DEMO conference, it launched a subscription engine for Facebook applications. So what’s next? Saving journalism, apparently.

Many of you just rolled your eyes, I know. After all, everyone seems to have a scheme to save the newspaper industry. But co-founder and chief executive Tien Tzuo notes that most proposals, like Steve Brill’s charge-for-content startup Journalism Online seem like they’re still in the planning stages. Zuora’s Z-Commerce for Media, on the other hand, will launch in beta testing later this year, and is being demonstrated on-stage at DEMObeat 09, the technology conference co-produced by VentureBeat.

Plus, Zuora has already built a custom subscription service for more than one media customer. Tzuo says Zuora handled the back end when tech news site GigaOm launched a paid service earlier this year and also built technology that allows academic magazine publisher Reed Elsevier to charge for some of its content.

What really won me over to Tzuo’s approach, however, is his emphasis on flexibility. Zuora isn’t trying to convince publishers that they need to lock up all of their content behind a paywall. Instead, says Tzuo, no one has found the best model for making journalism pay, so publishers need to try different things. Zuora lets them set up a payment system quickly, then tweak the model if it isn’t working.

“The key … is that you need a platform that allows you to experiment,” Tzuo says.

But what if news organization just doesn’t know how to charge for its content? Tzuo says he’d recommend one of three “freemium” models: The Financial Times model, where each visitor gets a certain amount of pageviews per month before they have to start paying; the Wall Street Journal model, where you can see new articles and the beginning of older stories for free; and a segmented model, where some of your articles are free and others must be paid for.

The Redwood City, Calif. company says it can handle a publisher’s product catalog (i.e., the list of different subscription options), its access controls, its subscription management, and payments.

Zuora has raised a total of $21.5 million from Benchmark Capital, founder Marc Benioff, Shasta Ventures, and Lehman Brothers Ventures Partners. Competitors include Aria Systems and Vindicia.


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