Managing the paid content mountain, one mogul at a time


My dad taught me to ski in Washington state when I was about 8 years old. At the end of my first season, Dad took me up the highest lift on Crystal Mountain.

We skied off the lift onto what felt like the absolute edge of the world. Slide backward and you’ll plummet into the tips of giant trees just poking through the snow. Slide forward and you’re careening down a cliff of moguls.

What was he thinking?

Actually, what was he not thinking? He wasn’t thinking of the 90-degree mogul field as an impossible challenge for an inexperienced child. He described it as a series of small hills.

Take each one on its own and you build skills and confidence, and the trip is far less daunting and more successful (you could arrive at the bottom alive with a thrilling story to tell the lowly hot cocoa sippers below).

The 90-degree mogul field is a newspaper’s goal of a robust, enduring print and digital paid subscriber base.

When you stand at the top and imagine charging for digital content, creating subscriber content walls and print/digital bundles, it’s easy to see only an opportunity for failure.

Don’t be a hot cocoa sipper — tackle the goal in small, manageable projects that will move you down the mountain.

Lay the groundwork for a successful print/digital transition farther down the hill. For now, just tackle the first series of obstacles:

  • Aggressively collect e-mails for all your subscribers. Use every tactic you can think of (just make sure you acquire proper permissions for use). These e-mails create a low-cost channel to begin a dialogue with your customers, and the conversation is on a digital platform — all the better.

  • A dialogue is two-way. Find opportunities in the e-mail communications to encourage the subscriber’s response and participation.

    Registration is a perfect example. Registration provides the subscriber with increased access to something she values. A registered experience is more memorable than getting something for free. Registration reinforces the feeling of membership.

  • Move the print payment structure away from terms and incentives for credit card EZ Pay — this will be the model you’ll want when you implement a paid digital strategy.

    The relationship between the newspaper and the subscriber needs to be built on something other than begging for renewals every three months. Let the newspaper’s content and your engagement communications speak loudly.

    Again, renewal billing is for the marshmallow nibblers at the bottom of the hill.

  • Create a digital product road map that will lead your print subscriber to your digital products, and, in time, pay for them.

    Print readers are going to move to digital eventually. You need to make sure they pick your digital products and bundle it with your Sunday newspaper.

    These digital products can be small slices of content — subject-specific newsletters (they can be free, but make sure folks register for them), mobile apps (included when the subscriber pays by credit card), etc.

You’re already halfway down the terrifying mountain, and your subscriber base is stronger and ready to ski the rest of the way with you.

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