Subscription Sign-Up Pages

How to Design the Best Subscription Sign-Up Pages

The New York Times reached a major milestone earlier this month, when the company announced it had hit 4.3 million paid subscribers. Generating that sort of enthusiasm for a digital news product doesn’t happen by accident. It’s the result of a highly crafted revenue generation strategy with subscription sign-up pages that drive reader conversions.

Subscription sign-up pages are one of the best tools that digital publishers have for encouraging readers to take the plunge and become paying subscribers. Subscription sign-up pages also provide publishers with an opportunity to influence the way readers perceive their publications and the value that they provide to the community at large.

With so much on the line, digital publishers can’t afford to mess up this up.

The Best Subscription Sign-Up Pages

The best subscription sign-up pages are designed with careful attention to language and the placement of links or buttons. They utilize clean layouts and user-friendly designs, which makes it easier for readers to learn about which subscription packages are available to purchase.

Nothing ruins a subscription sign-up page like a cumbersome registration and payment process. That’s why we recommend that publishers utilize seamless payment solutions that minimize the number of clicks it takes to sign-up for auto-payments or recurring billing.

For the best chance of converting casual readers into paying subscribers, we recommend that publishers utilize these best practices.

Best Practices When Designing Subscription Sign-Up Pages

1. Create a sense of urgency
The best subscription sign-up pages do more than just educate readers about which subscription packages are available. They actually convert readers into subscribers. How do they do that? One way is by creating a sense of urgency.

When designing subscription sign-up pages, we recommend utilizing calls-to-action that create a sense of urgency and make readers want to subscribe right away.

WSJ Subscription Sign-Up Pages

The Wall Street Journal offers a great example of what this looks like in the real world. The newspaper’s subscription page frequently includes special offers or limited-time discounts. For example, in early February, the publisher was promoting a Presidents’ Day Sale with subscriptions that started at $1 for two months. These sorts of limited-time deals create a sense of urgency that makes readers feel like they might be missing out on a deal if they don’t subscribe right away.

2. Highlight the best deals
The best subscription sign-up pages give readers more than one package to choose from. For example, The New York Times gives readers the option to choose from Basic subscriptions, All Access subscriptions, or All Access + Print subscriptions. Different readers have different needs, so it makes sense to offer multiple pricing options here.

New York Times Subscription Sign-Up Pages

What’s even more interesting, from a best practices perspective, is the way The New York Times lays out its subscription sign-up pages. The publisher uses a special header that says “Reader Favorite” to flag its most popular subscription package, the Basic Subscription.

Which specific package a publisher chooses to highlight as the best offer will vary depending on reader demographics and a number of other outside factors. It’s important to note that the best deal isn’t always the one that costs the least. Highlighting any offer, and including a brief description of why that offer is the most popular among subscribers, is a sure-fire way to succeed in increasing reader conversions.

3. Include a feature comparison
As a best practice, subscription sign-up pages should always been designed with clean layouts and clear calls-to-action. But whenever possible, they should also include comparison tables that make it easy for readers to understand the difference between similar subscription packages.

Washington Post Subscription Sign-Up Pages

The Washington Post does a great job of this on its subscription page. The title and price for each subscription package is clearly laid out, and readers can quickly see bullet points that highlight the best parts of each package. Below the comparison table are links to subscription packages that are less frequently selected by readers, like gift subscriptions, enterprise solutions, and the academic rate.

4. Use exit pop-ups
If you don’t already use exit pop-ups on your website, then you might not be familiar with what these are. Exit pop-ups are messages that “pop up” on the visitor’s screen before they navigate away from a website. So, when a visitor’s mouse scrolls over to the back tab on the browser screen, or when the visitor is about to close the tab, the exit pop-up appears on top of the original webpage with an offer enticing the visitor to stick around.

Washington Post Subscription Sign-Up Pages

The Washington Post is one of a number of newspaper publishers using exit pop-ups to improve conversions on its subscription sign-up pages. Visitors who are about to leave the website are presented with an offer to subscribe for just $1. The pop-up uses large, bold text and gets its message across in as few words as possible. The design is hard to miss, which is exactly what a publisher is going for in this scenario.

If you’d like to learn even more about how to optimize your subscription sign-up pages using the best practices for digital publishers, reach out to our team here at Web Publisher PRO.

Overcome a Drop in Subscribers

Publishing 101: How to Overcome a Drop in Subscribers

The number of people willing to pay for subscriptions to digital news publications has started to decline — here’s what publishers can do to overcome a drop in subscribers.

After years of stagnant subscription sales, it seemed as though news publishers had finally turned things around in 2017. Fresh off the U.S. presidential election, digital subscription rates were reaching all time highs.

A 2017 survey by Reuters Institute found that the number of people paying for online news jumped from 9% in 2016 to 16% in 2017. Those who paid said they were more interested in news reporting that lifestyle and entertainment content, and many publishers shifted their editorial efforts to capitalize on the shift in reader interests. By 2018, 44% of publishers listed digital subscriptions as their most important revenue stream.

Strong subscription programs have helped digital publishers decrease their reliance on digital advertising revenue. The change in strategy has largely been seen as a deft move—one that has bolstered the strength of newsrooms around the country—but new research indicates that there could be a hiccup in the plan.

A new survey, released by Reuters Institute, cautions that the number of consumers who are willing to pay for online subscriptions is small, and that “subscription barriers could end up annoying consumers further and giving people another reason to turn away from news.”

Even more worrisome for digital publishers, Reuters’ survey indicates usage of software or browser extensions to get around online paywalls is on the rise. For publishers who’ve decreased their reliance on digital advertising, a drop in subscribers could be trouble.

What’s the solution?

For starters, we’re recommending that digital publishers who’ve noticed a drop in subscribers consider changing up their subscription packages. They may want to consider introducing membership programs instead. Buzzfeed and The Daily Beast are just two examples of publishers who have launched online membership programs. Other digital outlets, including Fortune, HuffPost, and Yahoo Finance, are expected to come out with similar programs later this year.

Membership programs are different from subscriptions, in that they make readers feel like they have a greater stake in the game. Members are a part of the team, whereas subscribers are merely readers of a publication. Membership programs also tend to come with extra perks, like newsroom tours and reporter meet-and-greets. These serve as powerful incentives that encourage people to pay for the news they consume, but they don’t necessarily cost publishers a fortune to implement.

Another, perhaps less desirable option, is for publishers to return to digital advertising. Yes, display rates have dropped in recent years, but there are still plenty of opportunities for digital publishers who are interested in going this route. Native advertising and sponsored content give digital publishers a way to connect with business advertisers at a higher price point, without involving the programmatic networks.

Publishers who feel committed to their existing subscription programs can try discounts or limited-time offers as a way to overcome a drop in subscribers. That’s what The New York Times has done. The company ran an introductory offer that charged readers just $1-a-week for one-year. That offer produced strong results, in terms of bringing in new subscribers, but it’s too soon to tell whether readers who purchased subscriptions at discounted rates will continue past their initial trial periods and pay full price in the future.

Publishers can also expand their service areas to bring new readers in. This strategy works best for regional publishers and hyperlocal publishers. By expanding the geographic areas they cover, publishers are introducing themselves to new groups of readers who may be willing to pay for access to their websites.

Digital publishers also have to overcome the sense among consumers that online news is something they can get for free. That might mean creating stronger paywalls, or it might mean posting less content on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. What we know for sure is that exclusive, original reporting is always going to be a key element in a successful subscription program.

Readers cannot be expected to pay for content they can consume for free elsewhere on the web, but we’re still seeing plenty of indications that readers are willing to pay for access to premium content that’s relevant to their lives.

Has your publication noticed a drop in subscribers, and if so, which strategies have you implemented to reverse the trend?

Local Websites Sell Stock to Readers

When Should Local News Sites Sell Stock to Readers?

Rather than chase investments from outside financiers, a small number of local publishers are turning inward and asking for help from readers in their own communities. But whether local news sites should sell stock to readers is still a hotly debated topic, and as of now, there doesn’t seem to be a one-size-fits all approach.

Questions over whether local news sites should sell stock to readers have swirled for years, but the topic made national headlines again this past week, when The New York Times covered Sonoma County publisher Rollie Atkinson’s decision to do a direct public offering to the readers of The Healdsburg Tribune, The Cloverdale Reveille, The Windsor Times, and Sonoma West Times & News. With the capital raised in the direct public offering, Atkinson is hoping to make necessary website upgrades and raise his staff’s salaries.

What Is a Direct Public Offering

A direct public offering is an investment technique that allows outside investors of all sizes to buy shares of a company. Direct public offers are made to both accredited and unaccredited investors, which is what makes it possible for everyday readers to invest in a local news website. Direct public offerings don’t have to cost much more than traditional reader membership programs, but they give readers a deeper connection to the publication by giving them a financial stake.

While the term ‘direct public offering’ is relatively unknown in the outside world, most people have heard of crowdfunding. Investment crowdfunding and direct public offerings are very similar.

How a Direct Public Offering Works

A local publisher’s decision to sell stock to readers is never an easy one. In the case of Sonoma West, the process started with the hiring of a broker. That broker placed a value on Atkinson’s four community publications, which have a combined paid circulation of 9,900.

Next came setting a financial goal. Atkinson set his at $400,000, with the direct public offering open until March 2019. Usually, publishers will offer a certain dollar amount worth of preferred stock as part of a direct public offering, and then they will let people in a certain group—for example, California residents—buy into their publications.

Readers need at least $1,000 to buy into Sonoma West. Shares of the company cost $4 each, and the minimum purchase is 250 shares. (A prospectus is available to let readers know what the financial requirements are to invest.)

The local news parent startup Whereby.Us started its offering even smaller, inviting readers in Miami and Seattle to chip in as little as $500. In all, the company raised $250,000 from its reader-turned-investors.

Every direct public offering is unique, but it’s not uncommon for investors to be promised a certain annual dividend—for example, a 3% annual dividend—so long as the publication continues to flourish.

Why Readers Buy Stock in Local News Sites

In the local news business, a direct public offering only works when a publication has a strong relationship with its readers. Given the current political environment, there’s a desire from citizens to support local journalism. Publishers can capitalize on that interest by deciding to sell stock to readers now, before interest begins to wane.

More broadly speaking, direct public offerings tend to work best for local publishers in wealthy areas, with Berkeley and Sonoma County being two prime examples. The hyperlocal news outlet Berkeleyside ended up raising $1 million from 355 readers after its direct public offering, which is no small sum for a community-focused publication.

In addition to an annual dividend, readers who invest in local news sites also usually get access to certain perks, like the opportunity to meet with publishers or editors, and early access to special content and live events.

Why Local News Sites Sell Stock to Readers

Rather than chasing down funding from outside financiers, local publishers who sell stock to readers are putting control of their publications into the hands of their own communities. Major decisions, which would otherwise be made by an individual publisher or a financier with no ties to the community, are instead made collectively by that community’s residents.

The decision to sell stock to readers also gives publishers room for long-range planning. With fresh capital in hand, publishers can make any website upgrades they’ve been delaying, like mobile-friendly site redesigns or the development of mobile apps. The additional capital can also help publishers strengthen their coverage of certain areas or topics that matter to readers, like crime or education, or raise their employees’ salaries.

turning readers into subscribers

Local Publishing 101: Turning Readers Into Subscribers

As more local publishers take a hard look at the broken online advertising system, subscription monetization strategies are on the rise. But turning readers into subscribers isn’t always as simple as publishers imagine.

The problem isn’t finding readers. More people are consuming their news online than ever before. According to venture capitalist Mary Meeker’s recent internet trends report, people now spend more than 5.5 hours a day with digital media. But with so much information available for free across the web, it isn’t always easy turning readers into subscribers.

The No. 1 reason why readers subscribe to digital news websites is because of a desire to access news about their local communities, followed by wanting coverage of a specific topic. More digital subscribers than print subscribers say they want to subscribe as a way to support local journalism. That altruistic edge will come into play later as we dig deeper into how top publishers are turning readers into subscribers.

For now, let’s look at which tactics seem to be working best.

Lesson 1: Add a paywall
Yes, there was a time around the year 2000 when paywalls were seen as a failure within the publishing community. The Atlantic, along with many other well-known publications, famously pulled its paywall down to focus on other monetization strategies. But paywalls today are different, and they’re now being setup in a way that makes them much more effective at turning readers into subscribers.

Today’s paywalls are porous. If a publisher has a hard paywall, nobody can see what’s behind it, and readers are more likely to turn around and leave. If a publisher has a porous paywall, readers can see the first few paragraphs of content — just enough to entice them to subscribe for more.

The number of readers who get their news online has grown exponentially in the past 18 years. If the number of loyal readers who are likely to subscribe hovers between 5% and 10%, then local publishers have to decide whether they have enough traffic volume to make a paywall work.

When they’re setup in the right way, paywalls should work as a conversion mechanism for turning readers into subscribers.

Lesson 2: Make it easy to convert
Let’s say readers hit a paywall. What does that paywall look like, and how can readers get around it? In order to increase conversions, publishers should turn their paywalls into promotional spaces for their subscription programs.

Make sure to include a clear link that readers can use to subscribe right away, along with a form where readers can enter their email addresses to continue receiving more information from the publication.

Some publishers change the content on their paywalls based on the number of times a reader has visited their website. For example, the advertised price of a monthly subscription might go down once a visitor has arrived at a paywall five times in a week. The goal here is to entice the reader with a promotional rate. It’s more cost effective to lower the price for a reader who is already on the website than it is to go out and find new readers who may or may not subscribe.

Lesson 3: Take advantage of email advertising
We know that paywalls should include space for readers to enter their email addresses. The next question is, what should publishers do with the email addresses they collect?

Publishers who are interested in turning readers into subscribers will want to email those visitors at regular intervals with promotions and discounts on their subscription packages.

Publishers should also send out email digests with links to their top stories. When readers click on those links, they’ll hit a paywall and be encouraged to subscribe in order to view the rest of the content.

Lesson 4: Get reporters involved
Increasing subscription rates should be a family affair. Top newsrooms, including The Seattle Times, are using advanced analytics tools to give reporters a closer look at how their stories are faring.

Journalists, editors, and publishers should all be watching the traffic coming in to specific stories, and the percentage of visitors who ultimately subscribe. This information can help reporters choose which topics they want to cover in the future. It can also be helpful in setting up and formatting stories in a way that’s enticing to readers. For example, a local publisher may discover that readers who visit the sports section are more likely to subscribe than readers who come for local news coverage. Similarly, readers may be more likely to subscribe after viewing videos or photo galleries than text stories. All of this data is useful when reporters, editors, and publishers work as a team.

If you’d like to learn more about the latest strategies for turning readers into subscribers, please reach out. We can show you which strategies are working best for local publishers in real-time and offer advice on how to improve conversion rates on your existing website.

increase subscription revenue

How to Increase Subscription Revenue – A Guide for Local Publishers

Subscription revenue is on the rise at online news outlets across the country, so why are local publishers still feeling the financial pinch?

Readers are flocking to online news outlets, and there’s been a renewed interest in supporting local journalism over the past few years, but publishers still need to optimize their subscription programs if they want to make up for declining online advertising rates.

Simply adding a “subscribe now” button to a homepage isn’t enough to make a financial impact. To increase their subscription revenue, publishers have to go further.

The Subscription-First Model

Subscription revenue at major news outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post is on the rise. The New York Times added 132,000 subscribers in just the first 18 days after the 2016 presidential election, and new subscriptions at the Post have grown by 75%. Local publishers are experiencing similar successes, but subscription rates and subscription revenue are two very different beasts.

The increases publishers are seeing in subscription revenue are being negated by decreases in advertising rates. To that end, some local publishers are going with a subscription-first model that does away with advertising altogether and focuses on increasing the appeal to readers with VIP experiences. These publishers are finding that readers are more apt to subscribe when they get access to an ad-free publication. That means no pop-ups covering their screens or filling up their browsers.

Local publishers who aren’t quite ready to do away with ads altogether are taking a hybrid approach, allowing paying subscribers to enjoy an ad-free experience while non-paying readers still see ads alongside most website content.

Understanding the Audience

Subscription revenue is tied to subscription rates, so how does a publication get more readers to subscribe? If only there was a magic solution. The truth is that the most successful local publications rely on analytics to understand what their readers want to see. Catering to the audience is always important, but especially so in a time when publishers are trying to increase subscription revenue.

Using analytics tools, publishers should segment their audiences by loyalty and the likelihood that they will pay for access. That’s the group that publishers should be catering to. In addition to tracking which pages these readers view, publishers should be keeping tabs on engagement.

Drilling down in this way, publishers may discover that the readers who are likely to pay for access care about different topics than the public at large. They may also discover that members of this group are more likely to click on coupons or arrive at their sites through social media.

In a series of studies looking at what moves readers to subscribe to news publications, the Media Insight Project found that quality and accuracy matter to almost every subscriber group, and regardless of their underlying motivations, many subscribers are triggered by well-times subscription discounts.

The Media Insight Project found that market size matters, too. New subscribers at smaller news outlets are more likely to subscribe after moving into town than those at larger outlets.

Other factors that drive readers to subscribe have to do with an interest in news, having noticed interesting articles, or being concerned about the accuracy of other news sources in their communities. Local publishers can focus on these factors as they look for ways to drive subscription revenue.

Closing the Deal

We know what types of subscription programs drive revenue for local publications, and what factors make readers to want to subscribe. So how do successful local publishers close the deal and turn readers’ interest in their websites into subscription revenue.

Conversion requires a trigger, and the most successful trigger in this case is a price reduction.

According to the Media Insight Project’s research, discounted subscription pricing is the most effective trigger, with 45% of recent news subscribers citing that as a reason for subscribing. Twenty-one percent of readers subscribe to local news sites as a way to get coupons from ads, and 16% say paywalls are a motivating factor. A recent move into the area, or a lifestyle change, can also lead readers to subscribe to a local news site.

Timing is everything here. When readers hit paywalls, they should see a quick way to subscribe for immediate access. When they click onto pages designed for new residents, they should see ads encouraging them to subscribe. And when readers have visited a website a certain number of times in a month, pop-ups should start appearing with discounted subscription prices. These are all conversion tactics that will increase subscription revenue, with minimal work on the publisher’s part.

Increasing subscription revenue isn’t a one step process, but simple tweaks can add up to major changes in subscription patterns.

turning readers into subscribers

The Price Is Right: How Local Publishers Set Subscription Prices

How much will people pay for local news? It’s a question that every local publisher has pondered. But with the number of publishers launching subscription and membership programs on the rise, the need for real information about how to set subscription prices has never been greater.

Where is the ceiling on local publishing subscription rates? How much will readers pay, and at what point will a high price tag turn them away?

The answer to these questions has to do with the perceived value of the subscription. The greater the perceived value of whatever the reader is paying for—whether it’s a subscription, a membership, or even just limited access to premium content—the higher the price tag the publisher can justify.

Increasing the perceived value of a local publication’s subscription program requires publishing more high quality, relevant articles, and launching add-on services like local business directories, podcasts, and email newsletters.

Perceived value is also tied to marketing. A local publication that successfully promotes itself through both traditional and non-traditional forms of marketing is going to have a higher perceived value than one that does not, even if the publication that promotes itself has a lower quality of journalism.

Publishers looking at how to set subscription prices should consider the perceived value their publications or websites are providing to readers. What are readers getting in exchange for their hard earned dollars? The higher the value, the higher the acceptable subscription rate.

“The Price of a Cup of Coffee”

If you’ve been around the local publishing industry for any length of time, you’ve seen subscription marketing materials that tout monthly rates that are lower than the price of a cup of coffee. The Guardian is one of many publications charging $5 per month for subscriptions, roughly the same price as a grande-sized latte at Starbucks.

When local publishers set subscription prices at $5 per month, they position themselves alongside cups of coffee. When rates go up to $10 per month, they position their subscription programs alongside Spotify and Netflix. The value proposition there is much harder to justify for small publishers, which is why $5 per month seems to be the sweet spot for many in the industry.

One way that local publishers do justify higher price points with their subscription and membership programs is by offering paying readers ad-free experiences and valuable extras, like exclusive stories and podcasts, invitations to meet up events with reporters, and early access to new website features.

Considering Reader Demographics

Reader demographics play in a role in the subscription prices that publishers can charge, as well. Publishers who are getting ready to set subscription prices have to look at who their readers are and how much they can afford.

Niche publications will often find that their readers will pay more than the readers of community-focused news sites. For example, Stratechery, a site that provides free weekly content and additional analysis to paying subscribers, charges $10 a month. That price would be on the high side for a website covering local news, but Stratechery focuses specifically on the technology and media business, with readers who tend to have high incomes.

Publishers that sell exclusive content, like research papers, can charge even more for access. This is especially true if they market their subscriptions to businesses rather than individuals. For example, Business Insider’s research division was charging $2,495 for all-access memberships back in 2016. Politico Pro offers up another example. The policy intelligence website, launched by the team at Politico, has been known to charge corporations between $5,000 and $10,000 for premium access.

Scale becomes a lot less important when you’re selling subscriptions for thousands of dollars a pop. But, of course, the vast majority of local publishers can’t expect to set subscription prices so high. According to an analysis conducted by Pew Research Center, the median price of a digital subscription to U.S. newspapers is $10 per month. Online-only outlets tend to charge less, while the largest newspapers in the country charge considerably more.

The median subscription rate for digital news is considerably lower than for print news. However, that rate is still 83% higher than it was in 2012, when the Reynolds Journalism Institute published its own report on the optimal price for online news subscriptions.

Market size didn’t play a role in Pew’s findings, however discounted trial subscriptions did result in higher conversion rates than free trial subscriptions, which is something for publishers to keep in mind as they design their marketing and conversion programs.

Given all of this information, it’s clear that local publishers looking to set subscription prices should keep these factors in mind:
1) Who is reading the publication?
2) How much can those readers afford?
3) What value are readers getting in exchange for their subscriptions?

Make Local Publications More Profitable

How to Make Local Publications More Profitable

Display advertising rates are declining, but overall revenues among digital news publishers have never been higher. How could that be? The answer is diversification. In order to make local publications more profitable, publishers are blazing new paths and adopting new income generation strategies that bolster the bottom line.

That means acknowledging the shift in display advertising, as more ad dollars have moved to Google and Facebook, and putting a greater focus on ancillary revenue streams like subscriptions, sponsored content, e-commerce, and live events. By broadening their revenue base, local publishers reduce their dependency on traditional forms of advertising income.

According to a report, nearly half (44%) of publishers already see subscriptions as a “very important” source of digital revenue, even greater than display advertising and branded content.

At Whereby.Us, a locally-focused email newsletter startup, consumer revenue now accounts for 10% of all revenue. That number is expected to triple in the next few years, as the company continues to expand its programs.

The Charlotte Agenda is diversifying, as well. The hyperlocal publisher runs a membership program that costs $60 per year. Members get certain perks, like the ability to contribute op-eds and receive coupons to local stores. But mostly, they’re helping to shore up the bottom line for the popular local news site.

Adaptability is the key.

One of the keys for anyone looking at how to make local publications more profitable is to be adaptable. A publication that relies solely on display advertising revenue is in trouble if advertising rates start to drop, but a publication with multiple streams of revenue is better positioned to handle the changing tides.

Not every revenue generation idea will be a winner, of course. It’s just not possible. But that doesn’t mean that local publishers should stop trying to succeed.

To make local publications more profitable, owners need to be aggressive in trying new ideas, and willing to pivot if one idea fails. An idea that works well for one publisher—like hosting local events—might flop for another. We expect that to happen from time to time. But in order to see gains and move closer to profitability, and make local publications more profitable, we need to start implementing new income streams on a regular basis.

Experimentation is necessary.

Even The New York Times takes gambles. The news outlet launched a mobile cooking app, with plans to start charging users for access. That kind of innovative thinking is what helps make local publications more profitable.

Not every gamble requires a big financial outlay. Thanks to print-on-demand services and dropshipping, a number of publishers have been able to setup e-commerce stores and sell branded content through their websites with minimal financial investments.

Of course, local newsrooms do traditionally have fewer resources than their national counterparts. This can make it more difficult to experiment with creative new revenue streams. But remember, the more ancillary streams a publisher has in place, the less of an impact there is when one fails.

Artificial intelligence could someday be used to support local journalism, as publishers get even more creative in using the technology to generate better recommendations and so-called “robo-journalism” articles.

Cookie-cutter models don’t work.

When we look for ways to make local publications more profitable, we have to look at the publications themselves. Each publication brings its own unique advantages, s well as disadvantages. The flexibility that local publishers have, coupled with the ability to quickly adapt to changing market trends, is one of their greatest assets.

In a recent report on the state of the local news industry, Columbia Journalism Review found that “income diversification is fundamental,” even if the long-term potential of some ideas are unproven. The seven most popular revenue-generation practices for publishers, according to CJR’s research, were:

  1. Subscriptions
  2. Paywalls
  3. Events
  4. Media services
  5. Newsletters
  6. Obituaries
  7. Foundations and crowdfunding

When publishers diversify their revenue streams, they don’t just increase profitability in the traditional sense. They also give readers more opportunities to interact with their brands. For small publishers, especially, that sort of brand affinity goes a long way toward boosting memberships, subscriptions, and ad sales.

If you’d like more information about the latest strategies we’re using to make local publications more profitable, please reach out to our team here at Web Publisher PRO.

Digital Publishing Industry

How Local Publishers Use Live Events to Drive Profitability

As local publishers look for new ways to squeeze every last drop of revenue from their publications, live events are becoming a more attractive option.

Most local publishers already have deep ties within the communities they cover, not just with readers, but with small business advertisers and elected officials, as well. Given those relationships, publishers are in an ideal spot to host and sponsor events like conferences, reader meet-and-greets, and even community festivals.

Ticket sales aren’t the only way publishers are generating revenue from live events. Publishers are also selling sponsorships to advertisers and using live events, like newsroom meet-and-greets, as an incentive to encourage readers to join their paid membership programs.

Although publishers can be tight-lipped about revenue, live events are estimated to account for as much as 20% of total revenues for some news outlets. Live events also deepen the relationships between publishers and local business sponsors, who might be more inclined to advertise on the publisher’s website after partnering on an event.

Here are the most popular types of live events for local publishers to host.

1. Conferences

Conferences are the most obvious and common type of live event for publishers to host. From Recode Media’s Code Conference in California to MediaPost’s Publishing Insider Summit in Texas, it’s fair to say that publisher-hosted conferences have gone mainstream.
Despite the ubiquity and success that digital publishers have had in generating revenue through conferences, there are some downsides to be aware of. Smaller local publishers can have difficulty selling out large venues. They might also have trouble managing the logistics of a conference without hiring a team of professionals who’ve hosted conferences in the past.

Conferences can be lucrative for publishers, but we generally recommend that smaller publishers start by hosting some of the other types of live events listed here before they move on to larger conferences.

2. Business Recognition Events

Business recognition events are an excellent way for local publishers to dip their toes into live event hosting, without requiring nearly as many logistical requirements as a conference.

Business recognition events can be held to honor the best places to work, the fastest growing companies, or the most charitable employers in the publisher’s town. Rather than relying on ticket sales, publishers generate revenue through business sponsorships. What business wouldn’t want its logo on the brochure and signage for an event honoring the most charitable or innovative companies in town?

One issue to consider with business recognition events is that they tend to be low margin, so publishers will have to keep a tight watch on spending to ensure they don’t lose money when hosting an event.

3. Newsroom meet-and-greets

As far as live events are concerned, it doesn’t get much more straightforward than hosting a newsroom meet-and-greet. This type of live event is ideal for local publishers with membership programs, since many readers would jump at the chance to tour the publisher’s newsroom and interact with their favorite columnists in exchange for paying a nominal monthly fee.

Newsroom meet-and-greets don’t have to be formal. All that’s really needed is a newsroom, some refreshments, and a publication’s staff. Local publications that don’t have dedicated office space can host their meet-and-greet events at local coffee shops or event spaces.

4. Local Festivals

Time Out Group, the British publisher of city magazines and travel guidebooks, hosts hundreds of live events each year. This summer alone, the company is planning to host a ‘Movies on the River’ event, with a floating cinema, a silent disco at a London skyscraper, and an event called Battle of the Burger in New York.

Smaller, local publishers often have success hosting tasting events with top restaurants or brewers in their towns. In most cases, restaurants will pay to participate at these events, other local businesses will pay to sponsor them, and attendees will pay for tickets, presenting a trifecta of revenue generation channels.

Because they are such large events, the majority of festivals rely largely on sponsorships from businesses for support. For example, Time Out’s floating cinema event is being sponsored by Rekorderlig Botanicals cider. If hosting a large festival is out reach for a community-focused publisher, there’s also the option of working with a third-party provider on a revenue sharing model.

Live events are rarely enough to sustain a local publisher by themselves, but they can serve as a valuable source of secondary income and they can lead to additional opportunities, like the chance to sell branded merchandise and promote membership programs. Content from live events can also be recycled into webinars and on-demand videos that readers must pay to access.

If you’d like more information about the revenue generation strategies we offer local publishers at Web Publisher PRO, feel free to reach out.

membership program

Local Lessons From The Daily Beast’s New Membership Program

Membership programs are all the rage among digital publishers right now, with The Daily Beast becoming the latest outlet to enter the fray. Daily Beast readers who want early access and exclusive content can pay $100 to join Beast Inside, a membership program that positions readers as team members and decreases the publication’s reliance on outside advertising dollars and sponsorships.

The Daily Beast is the latest in a long line of online publishers exploring this type of membership model. Unlike subscriptions, which turn readers into consumers buying a product, and donations, which turn readers into saviors of local journalism, membership programs turn readers into partners.

Over at The Daily Beast, CEO Heather Dietrick says her membership model is about building deeper, more intimate relationships with the website’s most loyal readers. Although Dietrick believes that The Daily Beast is in a better position to pivot to the membership model than publications that have relied heavily on Facebook as a source of traffic generation, there are certainly lessons that local publishers can learn from the launch of Beast Inside. Here are a few things that stand out.

Membership programs should be designed for a publication’s readers.

The Daily Beast did its due diligence before introducing a membership program. The publication knows that its readers tend to be urban, affluent, news junkies, and as a result, its membership program delivers on the content that those readers are likely to prefer.

This isn’t a strategy that’s exclusive to The Daily Beast or other large digital publishers. Small hyperlocal publications can take advantage of web analytics and reader surveys to find out who their regular readers are and what types of coverage they enjoy. This information can then be used to design a membership program that readers can’t help but want to join.

Readers will pay for a quality product.

One of the biggest hesitations local publishers have about launching a membership program has to do with pricing. Many community-focused publishers are worried about alienating their readership with a membership program that costs too much. At the same time, setting too low of a price doesn’t give local publishers the revenue they need to support the very initiatives that are most likely to make people want to become members.

At $100 per year for a membership, Beast Inside gives the publication enough leeway to create some really interesting content, like a members-only mysteries series, exclusive podcasts, and a customizable email newsletter.

Newsletters are a valuable commodity.

With the news cycle moving at warp speed, people are searching for ways to distill the top headlines of the day. One of the exclusives that The Daily Beast gives to readers who join its membership programs is access to The Cheat Sheet, an email newsletter that’s designed to keep people updated on the most important stories.

The Daily Beast is allowing members of its Beast Inside program to customize their email newsletters. For example, readers who can’t get enough political coverage can switch to an all-politics edition. This is a step that local publishers could easily replicate, offering special versions of email newsletters dedicated to certain topics or areas of news coverage for people who join their membership programs.

Free content still has a place in online publishing.

When publications launch paywalls and subscription programs, there’s a tendency to want to lock down free content as a way to encourage people to pay for access. The Daily Beast has moved in the opposite direction. CEO Heather Dietrick says the company plans to keep its core product widely available. Doing so, she believes, will allow more readers to discover the content and consider becoming paid members.

A publisher’s free content serves as a form of advertising. And since industry research suggests that just 2% of a publisher’s audience will pay for access to content, keeping the majority of articles open allows publishers to still generate revenue from online advertising.

Instead of forcing people to pay for access to content they’ve previously enjoyed for free, the membership model rewards readers for their support with access to new forms of exclusive content. In that way, the membership model appears to be a much more sustainable source of recurring revenue for local publishers looking to reach long-term goals.

small donations

Local Publishers Find Financial Sustainability Through Small Donations

Small donations are adding up to big revenue for hyperlocal publishers.

The trend toward asking for donations from readers may have started with non-profit news sites, but it has quickly expanded outward. Today, both for-profit and non-profit digital publishers are asking readers to donate to keep local journalism alive.

With digital advertising rates falling, more local publishers are asking for small donations from their readers. Of course, what counts as a “small” donation varies from publisher to publisher. Over at The Guardian, preset donations start at $7. ProPublica starts its preset donations at $35.

A donation is viewed differently than a membership or a subscription, because donors aren’t always guaranteed extra access to content in exchange for their financial support. From the publisher’s perspective, subscriptions are often seen as a more reliable source of predictable revenue. Most readers subscribe to hyperlocal publications for defined periods of time, with payments made on a monthly or annual basis. Donations, on the other hand, can be one-time events, depending on how the publication’s donations page is setup.

Many donors are regular readers and longtime daily newspaper subscribers whose loyalty to their hometown papers has waned in the age of corporate takeovers. For these readers, in particular, hyperlocal publishers fill a unique void that’s worth supporting.

Over at Berkeleyside, the award-winning independent news site in Berkeley, California, readers are given the option to give monthly or just once. Preset monthly donations start at $5. At the New Haven Independent, readers can become “friends” of the site for $10 per month. Much lower on the same page, visitors are given the option to make tax-deductible contributions of any amount they choose.

What drives readers to donate?

Whereas subscriptions are fueled by the desire to access restricted content, and membership sales are often fueled by a desire to receive “free” benefits, donations are something else.
Small donations come from readers who value a publisher’s work and understand the role that journalism plays in their communities. When readers see articles written about the places they visit, and written by reporters living in their own communities, they’re driven to donate.

Hyperlocal publishers should do whatever they can to help their readers understand the financial strains they’re under and how donations of any size can be of benefit. Publishers who are successful in getting that message across often reap significant rewards. During the first for month of this year alone, ProPublica added 11,000 small-amount donors to its rolls, accounting for almost $1 million in donations. Last year, online donations accounted for 12% of ProPublica’s revenue.

Publishers can also use data to their advantage. For example, local publishers can target segments of readers with tailored donation requests based on which types of content they consume. Publishers can also use A/B testing to determine which messages resonate best with potential donors.

How can publishers encourage more small donations?

First and foremost, publishers shouldn’t be afraid to ask. Sites like Neiman Lab plainly ask readers for donations in order to advance the organization’s mission to promote the standards of journalism. These solicitations can also be made via social media posts or email newsletters.

Many publishers would like technology giants to help, but because there is almost no standardization within the hyperlocal publishing community, it’s a challenge for large platforms like Google and Facebook to drive memberships or donations to individual sites. One idea that’s been floated is a Chrome extension for donations. Other publishers are discussing ways to drive payments from inside Google AMP.

Kickstarter campaigns are being seen more often within the hyperlocal publishing community, as well. In May, two hyperlocal news sites—LAist and DCist—launched Kickstarter campaigns. Their sister-site, Gothamist, more than doubled its fundraising goal through a Kickstarter campaign that raised $200,147 from more than 2,800 backers.

If you’d like to learn more about the latest revenue generation strategies for hyperlocal publishers, we’d love to talk.