Spokesman-Review goes after — and gets — former print customers

by Dan Johnson        

A new “Connected” packages plan offers readers three subscription options, growing e-mail database by 30% while bringing back former print subscribers and circulation revenue.

Click the image to view a larger versionLike many newspaper companies, The Spokesman-Review is changing its business model to better reflect today’s rapidly changing business and consumer landscapes. 

At The Review, this change has included a reorganisation of the advertising and marketing division, a new brand name (S-R Media) that reflects that we are a multi-media company (as opposed to a “newspaper” that has a “Web site”), and a re-thinking of how we go to market with subscriptions.

Our subscription strategy was meant to accomplish several objectives:

  • The overriding goal was to generate more subscriptions, more circulation revenue, and greater net-paid circulation. 
  • Objectives also included increased reader engagement across all products and platforms, with an eye toward greater digital advertising revenue. 
  • We also wanted a strategy that supports our audience development initiative. As we continue to transform our advertising sales department into a multi-media “marketing solutions” company, audience becomes very important. We are working on a plan to develop a consumer database that tracks usage and interests, again with the goal of creating new advertising revenue streams through e-marketing and other audience delivery mechanisms. 
  • Finally, our subscription strategy needed to drive traffic to our digital products and to support our plan to implement both a metered Web site and a mobile site.

The Spokesman-Review put together a task force to decide which subscription model would be the best fit for our market. Ultimately, we concluded that to accomplish our stated goals of digital engagement, we needed to lead with digital and upsell to print — a departure from the way we had done business for 125 years. 

At the beginning of September 2012, The Spokesman-Review launched the “Connected Packages.”

Prior to fall 2012, we had offered traditional print frequency choices (i.e., seven-day, Weekends Plus Wednesday, etc.) and required customers to pay additional money if they wanted access to our digital replica edition. While we did offer a discount to the digital edition to print subscribers, it still cost an additional US$1 per month. (vs. US$6.95 per month for non-print subscribers.) 

The Connected campaign flips this model on its head. 

Customers now have a choice of three packages; Connected, Connected Plus, and Connected Complete:

  1. The basic (Connected) package includes a seven-day subscription to the digital replica, full access to and, a customisable e-newsletter and access to a 30-day archive through our e-edition. The price is US$1.99 per week or US$89 annually. 
  2. The “Connected Plus” package is US$2.75 per week (or US$132 for a year) and includes the suite of digital products listed above, plus home delivery of the print product on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. 
  3. “Connected Complete” is the digital suite, plus seven-day home delivery of the print product for US$4 per week or $192 for the year. 

One unique feature of the new connected packages is the e-newsletter. This enables users of to receive an e-mail every morning with the headlines, topics, etc. that they want. Any registered user of can sign up for the newsletter, but as a subscriber to one of the connected packages, you have more customisation options. 

The newsletter is designed to be compatible with any electronic device. It delivers headlines based on the topics, writers, blogs, etc. that the reader chooses and ultimately drives them back to for the full article.

Because we had been charging print subscribers a separate charge for the digital replica edition, we stood to lose revenue when we bundled digital and print subscriptions together. To offset this loss, we converted our billing cycle from monthly to weekly. 

This, in effect, was a price increase to anyone who did not pay by the year (annual pricing did not change with the conversion from monthly to weekly billing.) This also provided an incentive to new customers to pay annually for their subscription. 

All current print subscribers were put on the Connected package that best mirrored their current print frequency (i.e., seven-day customers were converted to the Connected Complete package). Thus, current subscribers automatically became eligible for the digital suite and simply had to “claim” their connected package by registering at our Web site. 

We went out with a substantial marketing campaign to promote the new packages. The campaign included TV, radio, direct mail, and telemarketing, as well as existing sales channels such as kiosk. 

Our primary target was former print subscribers who were once considered core subscribers, but now favour the convenience of online viewing. Our main pitch to these customers was to try us for four weeks at no cost. When the customers called our customer service center or went to our Web site to sign up, they were offered an upsell of an additional eight weeks at 50%. (Total offer was 12 weeks for the price of four.)

The majority of customers opted to receive the additional eight weeks, which has brought in more revenue and increased retention of these orders. 

Our goal was to generate 3,000 trial offers by the end of the year and to retain at least half of those for a year. So far, we have sold close to 2,000 initial offers and, while it is too early to gauge long-term retention just yet, indicators are that the orders are sticking. 

We are at close to 300 e-newsletter sign ups. Our digital replica net-paid circulation took a hit due to AAM (formerly ABC) rules on how digital subscriptions must be tracked as part of a bundle, but the number is quickly coming back. 

Since the launch of the campaign, we have seen an uptick in page views and unique visitors, and our e-mail database has grown by 30%.

Our next steps are to implement our metered Web and mobile strategy. Again, we will do this with an eye toward audience engagement and development. We will continue to promote the digital package to current and new subscribers as we develop advertising sales plans with which we will go to market when we have reached a sufficient audience in each area. 

This continues to be a very transitional time for newspapers and the industry is coming to terms with changes that will be demanded of it. 

This has certainly been a year of transition at The Spokesman-Review as we strive to transform our company to a multi-media powerhouse in our market. While we’re not there yet, a new sales and marketing division, a new brand, and a new subscription campaign are a terrific start and are proving successful.


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