MediaNews Group launches premium-tier, ad-free digital subscriptions

By Dan Petty

MediaNews Group

Denver, Colorado, USA

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By Ryan Nakashima

MediaNews Group

Denver, Colorado, USA

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Last year, MediaNews Group and The Mercury News launched an effort to test premium-tier digital subscriptions to see how many more Web site visitors would pay for a better user experience.

Our premium-tier subscription includes ad-free browsing, VIP treatment at live events, and, soon, badges on our commenting platform. We also rolled out a variety of geotagged news visualisations currently accessible to everyone.

Thousands of MediaNews Group readers have opted to pay for a premium, ad-free experience.
Thousands of MediaNews Group readers have opted to pay for a premium, ad-free experience.

Today, thousands of subscribers have opted to pay several more dollars per month for the premium experience, which more than justifies the small amount of lost ad revenue. It’s been successful enough that we’ve decided to roll it out to more than 30 other publications, including The Denver Post, the Orange County Register, the Boston Herald, and the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

This is part of MediaNews Group’s — and the industry’s — ongoing transition toward a subscriber-driven revenue model. As with most traditional publishers, print circulation has continued to decline and digital subscriptions have continued to steadily grow. Our coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, the George Floyd protests, wildfires in California and Colorado, and the U.S. elections have continued to attract thousands of people who are subscribing to our publications for relevant, timely, and accurate local news.

To our knowledge, we are the first local publisher to debut an ad-free subscription model. We were initially skeptical that people would be willing to pay more for a subscription, but that’s proven not to be the case.

We tested various price points to determine which price maximised revenue, and we settled on US$4 per month, although we expect this amount will vary somewhat by market. In the meantime, we continued to tighten our paywalls, which haven’t yet resulted in a decrease in audience. We continue to focus on tactics and strategies to grow e-mail newsletter lists as an important part of ensuring we funnel engaged users from casual to more loyal readers.

Our biggest challenge has been technical: working with vendor partners, our paywall provider, and technology providers to ensure we can exclude ads on our Web site, including in the comments and other areas.

But we’re also determined not to price the news out of reach for anyone. We’re preparing to roll out technology that will allow us to offer discounted (and verified) student subscriptions as well as a platform to allow bulk access for schools, universities, and library patrons through their institution’s logins. These efforts will help us reach underserved communities — people we haven’t traditionally reached with our journalism or people who may not have the ability to pay full price for our work.

We’re continuing our deep focus on building loyal and engaged audiences and building up our subscription base. Doing so requires having a deep understanding of our readers and serving them with relevant and important news while providing an experience that’s worth paying for.

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