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Marketing the other side of the paywall


Paywalls are everywhere these days.

Newspapers in the United States might have agreed that erecting a pay system that authenticates paid users must be a good idea. We see all flavours, shapes, and sizes.

There are metered walls, freemium sites, time-allotted schemes, and the not-so-impressive hard paywall. Publishers of all sizes must agree. Players from the largest newspaper groups down to small-market America have gotten into the game.

In May, Nieman Journalism Lab reported that 85% of the Dallas Morning News print-only subscribers want access to digital on top of their daily newspaper.

An interesting fact is that many of the successful paywall launches have one thing in common: They provide access to their digital content to existing subscribers.

Hard-core news customers expect this. They are willing to pay extra for it, too. Some models include a generous rate increase.

But in Dallas, newspaper executives are now scrambling to build additional audience. Especially among digital-only readers. In their estimation, they made it too difficult to subscribe to an online-only product.

I wonder if the word “subscribe” is to blame. Don’t get me wrong. I love subscribers and I love selling subscriptions. After all, I am a circulator.

But to get the view from the street, especially in the hard-core digital consumer segment, we must give pause to the words we use. Especially when we utter the term “subscription.”

The Internet is all about choice and independence. It doesn’t take long to get from one place to the next online. That device you’re holding in your hand or the mouse you’re using to scroll down this page is a magic carpet of the digital universe.

Market segments that have high digital IQ might perceive a digital-only subscription as something of very low value. In their mind, value is derived from a sum of experiences.

Multiple brands play into this. They have relationships with other brands, in addition to yours. They rely on Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Do they enjoy reading other media in e-book format? What about video? I bet they frequent YouTube. Texting and e-mail communication is a staple of their lives.

They not only use these but must have professional networks like LinkedIn to do their job. There are so many available apps, it makes my head spin.

The question that keeps me up at night is this: How have we equipped our brand to mesh seamlessly with other social and search brands?

The trick is to appear as relevant as their most valuable digital brands. Difficult? Maybe. But let’s not forget that the local daily newspaper owns enormous brand equity. It’s our job to harness that brand power.

We must tell the story, over and over again, of why local matters in our communities. Convey the power of objective journalism- real journalism, not blogs.

Be sure you spell out the granddaddy of them all: the institution of a free press. I’ll bet those 20-something independence junkies would relate to this one.

So while the race is on to A/B test the perfect meter number, or to focus-group your way to a superior 24-hour pass, or to test-market the buy-an-article-as-you-go strategy, we would be wise to put our dear digital phenoms in plain view.

The bottom line is high digital types perceive value from choice and independence. Give them what they want, explain it very clearly, and sell it at a fair price. Then watch your audience grow.

That’s something we should all subscribe to.

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