By Peter Osborne
In the weeks to come, we will be asking frequent website visitors to demonstrate their appreciation for the value of the content we’re creating by either subscribing to the print edition of the Delaware Business Times or paying a small fee to avoid limitations on the number of stories they can read on our site each month.
Some will call this a paywall. I don’t like that word. My monthly subscription to Netflix isn’t a paywall. When you create useful, helpful content, people are more willing to pay for access.
We expect the companies we cover to be transparent about their strengths and weaknesses, so I’ll do the same here: Only 2.5 percent of our unique website visitors each month are paid subscribers. That is not a prescription for long-term success so the elevator speech for my job has become much simple: Make the content so valuable that people will pay for it.
I can determine my success in Google Analytics. Are we seeing a higher ratio of Returning Visitors ratio? (i.e., are they coming back more often over a given period)? Perhaps more important, is our content driving visitors to increase their number of monthly sessions and their number of pages per session? That happens when your content is WORTH the time spent.
That will impact our strategy for the newspaper, our daily e-newsletter, and for what we’re posting on our website (and how easy we’re making it to navigate). We may delay publishing content online or in the e-newsletter so paid subscribers see it first.
Here’s the problem: The rise of the Internet caused media organizations to put their work online with no expectation of compensation. The Law of Unintended Consequences kicked in as a generation of news consumers began expecting content to be free and turned away from paid subscriptions.
Many publications have turned to this new model – some successfully, others not so much. But we believe that our Delaware-specific business content will appeal to people inside – and outside – the state. In fact, we are looking for suggestions on the type of data we include in the For the Record section in the back of the publication and online.
At the heart of it, paywalls can help create better content by reversing declines in subscription revenue that enable editors to preserve staff or hire new reporters. If enough DBT readers see the value we’re delivering in the face of reduced business coverage elsewhere and decide to subscribe, we’ll be able to put more resources toward deepening our coverage.
Why am I writing about this now? Back in 2011, I had just returned to Bank of America when I was asked to put together talking points for a proposed $5 fee to use their debit cards. The leadership team rejected our recommendation that we create a webpage making it very clear how they could avoid paying the fee. Many of you will remember that the uproar forced the bank to “blink” and abandon the plan.
So to avoid confusion, paid print subscribers will have full access to everything on our site, receive our annual Book of Lists, and special publications like Innovation Delaware and Stuff. There will be an Online Only offer, and some content will be free without restriction.
Please consider subscribing now, particularly if you’ve been receiving the paper for free. And drop me a note at [email protected] if you have a suggestion for how we can address your pain points and be more valuable. That way, paying for your subscription will be a no-brainer.