If you want to be really wonky about newspaper paywall’s audience and revenue numbers, Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab has released a paywall simulation that let’s you play with revenue, audience and subscription numbers. It’s a lot of fun if you know what the numbers mean.
Along the same line of thought, Newsday is three months into it’s paywall experiment charging $5 a week for access to their website (print subscribers and Cablevision Cable subscribers have free access) and they have 35 paid subscribers. In the three months since starting the experiment Newsday has lost over 50 percent of their web traffic peaking at 1.5 million visits per month in July 2009 down to 460,000 visits in December 2009.
Steve Yelvington with Morris Newspapers has done the math on a soft paywall as proposed by the New York Times (we discussed this last week). Steves figures that a newspaper should be prepared to give 35 to 55 percent of their advertising inventory by implementing a soft paywall because power users account for 3.5 percent of an online newspapers audience creating 35 percent of their pageviews. Last week Yelvington addressed how a soft paywall isn’t really a paywall at all for users who have a little tech knowhow to clear their cookies and look like a new user to the paywall.
This morning I received a “breaking news email” from the New York Times that the New York Times had decided to start charging for access in 2011. I really don’t understand why they would send a breaking news email over this news. First, everyone else had been reporting the Times decision for a couple of days and second it’s not newsworthy enough to disturb me with an email or text.
Outside of the fact that it’s not breaking news, the NY Times has decided to try out the middle ground in the payment wall debate, again. Last time with Times Select they hid their “premium” content from those who didn’t want to pay. This time they are going to ask the power users who access their web site more frequently to pay. Unfortunately, they aren’t ready to release simple details about the plan so we really can’t make a judgement call on it.
It would be nice to know how much is frequent? How many article can I access before I have to pay? How much will I have to pay? Then maybe we can make some comparisons to how much they are making on advertising revenue versus how much they will make for charging for access.
You think if they were sending a news alert about charging in 2011, they could have at least gotten the full story from their bosses.
The free flow of information “is as vital to the healthy functioning of communities as clean air, safe streets, good schools and public health.” That’s what the Knight Commission on Information Needs of a Democracy concluded in their report on Sustaining Democracy in a Digital Age. The 145 page report urges the nation to making sure all Americans have broadband access just as the emphasized ground transportation in building an interstate highway system a half-century ago.
The commission also examined issued the media is facing recommending:
- Direct media policy toward innovation, competition, and support for business models that provide marketplace incentives for quality journalism.
- Increase the role of higher education,community and nonprofit institutions as hubs of journalistic activity and other information-sharing for local communities.
What metrics do you use to measure the success of a newspaper web site switching to a paid content model? Specifically, I’m thinking about how will Stephens Media know if their switch to a paid content model for the Pine Bluff Commercial? Here’s the metrics I think a site switching to a paid content model would have to use.
- Paid Subscribers both online and in print – To justify paid content model you must show an increase in print newspaper subscriptions because the reason you switched to a paid model was to stop the cannibalization of your print subscribers by your free online site. Of course most studies show that the revenue generated from paid online subscribers will barely cover the cost of running the website.
- Web Site Visitors – Nope. You can keep measuring your web site visitors if you want to, but the dropoff from when it was free will be so discouraging you might change your mind and open it up again.
- Web Display Ad Revenue – Strike Two. Won’t work. You just killed your audience with the paid wall. Any advertiser who runs on your site behind the pay wall doesn’t know what they’re doing.
- Online Classified Revenue – Strike Three. This isn’t working for many newspapers anymore, but if you’ve killed your audience then who will pay to get their classifieds seen online by nobody.
So, the only real workable metric is an increase in paid print subscribers. That’s right a continual increase. If you only slow your decrease, then you’ve just slowed the print newspaper death spiral and given yourself another year or two until the presses stop running.