Paid Content at 2012 Key Executive Mega Conference

By Brian Steffens on February 28, 2012 0 Comments Ideas
See video

Mike Jenner, representing RJI and the Missouri School of Journalism, released his latest research into paid models, this time for weekly newspapers, and moderated a panel featuring three newspapers that are having success with paid models online.

Jeanny Sharp, editor and publisher of The Ottawa (KS) Herald has succeeded even though she was the smallest paper represented. "We figured we needed to do a little with a little" given limited resources yet a reluctance to sit still and fall behind. "We didn't have the cash nor the staff" that many in the audience have. Her website has the same pricing or pay model as the print product, and headline news on mobile phones is free. When we instituted a pay model "we stopped the erosion of our print product," she affirmed. 

Key to her success, she believes, is a marketing program that trumpeted: "We aren't ashamed to admit it. The Herald has value. And so do our subscribers." Her team has cultivated readers as an exclusive club, sending out a "Press Pass" to subscribers that touts their membership. 

Andy Waters, creator of the fun video at the top of this blog ... and general manager of the Columbia (MO) Daily Tribune, was prepared for a backlash that never really occurred. Page views dropped off a bit when the pay model was implemented, but in short order readership levels hit the pre-pay model levels and kept growing. And the paper is pulling in real cash from digital subscription fees -- enough to hire two reporters. Even better, print subscriptions are growing. "We wanted to eliminate the incentive to stop buying our print edition," he said. And the company created a new revenue stream. More details on the Tribune experience can be found in Waters' writeup in the paid model research report linked in the first sentence of this blog.

BONUS: the report also includes last year's paid content survey of dailies, a research summary on readers' willingness to pay, and another research summary on lessons learned modeling pricing models.

Jeanny Sharp, Jason Collington, Andy Waters, Mike Jenner
Jeanny Sharp, Jason Collington, Andy Waters and Mike Jenner

In Tulsa, OK, Jason Collington, web editor of the Tulsa World, decided to ask: "How local are we?" After doing a brief audit of the paper's news columns, and the amount of wire and syndicated content, they found they weren't as local as they thought. So they changed their content mix and how and where they presented it. Eschewing the "digital first" trend, Collington says his paper does print and digital in parallel. And counter to other speakers who sang the praises of outsourcing to third parties, Collington says that where the paper had 36 third party vendor partners in 2006, the paper now has six and will soon drop to three, and eventually probably just one. He beileves in hiring programmers to build quality products for the Tulsa World, to concentrate on creating great products, services and user experiences. He thinks third parties are often distracted by other clients and not focused on the local market.

Since implementing a pay model "all of our numbers, every one of them, have gone up," he says. "We have more monthly unique visitors than all our competititors combined. Seventy percent of the market reads the Tulsa World." The competition is a handful of television stations' websites. "And ours is paid, theirs are all free!"

Read NetNewsCheck's coverage here.

Brian Steffens is the director of communications at the Reynolds Journalism Institute. Read his other blog posts here, and talk back at and @BrianSteffens on Twitter.


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