Panelists with paywalls are
satisfied with their outcome
To increase circulation, revenue and an understanding of readership, newspapers should enact the appropriate form of a paywall on their websites, according to speakers experienced in that type of subscription management system.
They made their points as part of the “What happens if we install a paywall?” workshop panel Saturday, Feb. 11, during the New England Newspaper and Press Association’s winter convention in the Boston Park Plaza Hotel.
About 30 people attended the session, which featured Richard Lerner, chief executive officer of Clickshare Service Corp. of Amherst, Mass.; John Winn Miller, publisher of the Concord (N.H.) Monitor; and Gary Farrugia, publisher of The Day of New London, Conn.
Farrugia and Miller discussed the processes by which they erected some form of paywall for their newspapers, and the results of those changes.
Lerner talked about the experiences he and Clickshare have had working with several hundred newspapers, helping them erect some form of digital subscription management.
At the dawn of online news sites, paywall models were either registration only and no payment or purely hard paywall with no free content, Lerner said. In the past three years, however, metered models have become the most popular among his clients. In the metered system, publishers can decide what amount of metered free access non-paying customers are allowed before being prompted to register or pay, or both, for more content.
With that option, publishers can also choose which types of content are considered premium and which are always free. For example, a publisher might offer free metered access on the first 10 stories a unique site visitor reads a month, but those 10 do not include outside stories, such as those from The Associated Press; for premium content --- for example, sports -- only five stories are offered free a month.
Requiring readers to provide some basic information about themselves through registration yields more detailed information for publishers to pass along to their advertisers, Lerner said. That in turn can mean attracting more demographic-specific advertisers’ interest.
Another benefit of registration includes the prospect of running promotions, events and special sales for those registered, Lerner said.
Miller said that a few years ago, he “wasn’t for” paywalls, but when the time came to erect one for the Monitor’s website, more models were available and he changed his tune. To combat the Monitor’s dying print circulation and lack of online revenue, he and the Monitor staff decided to create a metered system on the site. Questions that helped them decide on the model’s limitations revolved around marketing strategy, options for print subscribers, and handling results and reactions.
“We didn’t invent anything,” Miller said of the installation process. Instead, the Monitor borrowed code, layouts, and promotional material from newspapers that had already done the same, he said. For its print subscribers, the Monitor chose an “opt-out” approach to offering them digital subscriptions for a nominal fee. Under that option, readers are automatically billed for the discounted digital subscription unless they decline by letting the paper know. Only 10 percent of the Monitor’s existing readership opted out of the deal.
The results of the Monitor’s venture were an increase in Sunday circulation, up 7 percent; an increase in online revenue, up 30 percent; and a sharp decline in the number of crude comments on stories.
Miller said the major takeaway he got from the Monitor’s experience was that “page views decline, but they come back. If revenue declines, just increase your ad positions … because readers don’t care.”
Next, he urged adding value to one’s site – for example, by creating mobile and digital versions of your paper – before asking readers to pay for it.
“Virtually everything that happened to John happened to us as well,” Farrugia said.
The Day’s metered model is a way of collecting data for the database that the newspaper is forming. Beginning in February, the Day has also begun distributing monthly surveys to certain demographic groups among its customers.
One interesting change that the paper has made is referring to its subscribers as “members.” Members can be part of the Day’s Passport Rewards Program, which uses prizes from advertisers for raffles and offers special events for members.
Although the Day only erected its metered model about six weeks ago, its staff has already witnessed positive results, Farrugia said. A total of 650 digital-only members have signed on since the launch, and its number of unique site visitors is down less than 10 percent, he said.
Farrugia said one Day advertiser who was shown the paper’s updated digital offerings and management signed a $39,000 ad contract for 2012. That advertiser had spent about $1,500 on ads in 2011, Farrugia said.
“The early significance here is we’re in this, we’re all in, and we’re not going back,” he said.
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