Metered subscription model brings local success

by Jason Collington        

Tulsa World launched a metered approach with its digital offerings in April 2011, the latest in a series of changes that have resulted in more revenue and visitors.

Click the image to view a larger versionThe process started in 2006. The publisher of Tulsa World, Oklahoma’s largest family-owned newspaper, started with a question. 
“How local are we?”
After weeks of counting local stories in print and online, Robert E. Lorton III had an answer. His response? 
“We can do more.” 
That started a process of changes that has helped separate Tulsa World from the pack. At the end of 2011, Lorton reported to employees the following facts: 
  • Online advertising revenue is up.  
  • Engagement with print and online readers is up.  
  • Traffic online from social media is up.
  • Overall circulation revenue is up.  
The process started with what became known in the newsroom as “The Local Initiative.” It was designed to meet this challenge from our publisher: Create more exclusive and in-depth content each day online and in print that the competition could not match. 
Each department responded. Now, Tulsa World in print is packed with local news, including all local stories on the front page and each section front. The Web site is updated more than 60 times a day, producing a daily average of 1,200 reader comments.  
The process included restructuring the newsroom to put the Web department under the executive editor and managing editor. A Web content coordinator was assigned as a liaison between the newsroom and the Web and programming departments. The idea was the newsroom staff would produce print and digital content in parallel — not one before the other— so both received the attention and time needed to produce the best content for readers. 
To help do that, Tulsa World invested in Web developers. A staff of eight programmers works on the company’s digital products. The move resulted in the reduction of using third parties and allowed the World to build its own content management system, as well as all of its mobile apps. 
In August 2010, Tulsa World started creating a metered model for and developed a digital subscription. The in-house programming department developed and implemented its own system to meter content. With three years of reader behaviour data in Omniture to study, staff was able to predict what traffic changes would occur under the new model. 
The metered approach, launched on April 4, 2011, allows a non-subscriber 10 free page views every 30 days to see Tulsa World articles, blog entries, and columns. The home page, all section home pages, and all classified pages are not metered; they are free to view to anyone who visits the site.
The results have exceeded expectations. From April 2011 to January 2012 with the metered model, averaged 1.28 million monthly unique visitors. That was a 15% increase from the same time period a year earlier when the site was free. has more monthly unique readers online than all its competition combined.
Circulation and advertising revenue have continued to increase in year-over-year comparisons. Each week, more than half a million Northeastern Oklahoma adults read Tulsa World. Advertisers are now getting a more engaged audience online, one of the goals of the process.
Lorton recently said in an open letter to readers: “Many have asked what these new media mean to our organisation and what impact they have had on our business model. In an age of increasing media distrust, Tulsa remains uniquely attached to its newspaper.”

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