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Monetize Restaurant Reviews

How to Monetize Restaurant Reviews

Check out these top strategies to monetize restaurant reviews.

Texans love good food, so it was only natural for the most well-known city magazine in Dallas, D Magazine, to dig into the local restaurant scene with reviews, guides, and stories about top chefs and notable openings. Like other top publishers, D Magazine has been able to monetize restaurant reviews and use its coverage of the local dining scene to keep readers on its website for longer.

For digital publishers, restaurant reviews can mean big bucks, particularly when content is properly harnessed and utilized in strategic ways. Here’s how to monetize restaurant reviews, based on the strategies used by some of the top publishers in the business.

5 Ways to Monetize Restaurant Reviews

1. Display Advertising

The first step in being able to monetize restaurant reviews is to sell display advertising alongside reviews and other dining content. Publishers have the option to sell their own advertising or to work with a larger ad server, like Google Ad Manager.

(Check out this list of the best ad servers for publishers.)

Selling ad space through a platform like Google is generally the easiest and fastest way for a publisher to monetize restaurant reviews, however there is more money to be made by selling display advertising space to businesses directly. Restaurants, especially local restaurants in the surrounding area, will pay a premium to have their ads run alongside restaurant reviews.

2. Sponsored Reviews

Publishers can charge restaurants a blanket fee to publish their own content, whether that’s a review or an article, under a “Sponsored Content” heading. Sponsored restaurant reviews can been tricky to navigate as a publisher, however most publications are comfortable running this type of content so long as the applicable disclaimers are posted.

The best place to start, as you look for restaurants that would be interested in paying to sponsor a review, is with your current advertising roster. Call up the businesses who run display advertising on your website and ask if they would be interested in sponsoring a restaurant review. Obviously, restaurants are most likely to be interested in this type of content, but businesses that cater to restaurant customers—for example, movie theaters or cooking supply stores—might also be interested in this type of advertising deal.

To connect with larger restaurant brands about sponsored reviews, check out online networks like Foodie Blogroll and FoodBuzz.

3. Online Directories

Top publishers are creating their own online restaurant directories, and then making money by selling advertising in their directories and offering paid directory listings.

Using the restaurant reviews you’ve already published, you can quickly populate a local restaurant directory. In addition to basic information—like the name, address, and phone number of each restaurant in town—your directory listings should include links to any reviews or other articles that have been published on your website.

4. Guides & E-Books

Being able to monetize restaurant reviews is really about finding as many ways to make money off the content as possible. So far, we’ve talked about selling display advertising alongside the reviews, using the reviews to populate online restaurant directories, and now we’ll get into the art of packaging restaurant reviews to publish in city guides and e-books.

People visiting your city, or people who have an interest in the restaurant scene, will pay for books with information about all of that city’s top dining establishments. It doesn’t even matter if most of the content in your e-book is already available online for free. The real value in a city dining guide is that the information is packaged in an easily-digestible way, so readers can quickly flip through and find information about any restaurant they’re thinking about visiting.

Whether these guides are in printed or in electronic form is up to you. The easiest way to get started is typically by using a service like KDP by Amazon, however you can also check out services like Lulu and Smashwords to publish and distribute books in electronic format.

5. Members-Only Access

Lots of news publications have paywalls up, requiring readers to subscribe before they can access certain types of content or sections of the website. Digital publishers who are interested in new ways to monetize restaurant reviews can place paywalls around their dining sections.

In addition to offering basic website subscriptions, larger publishers can offer dining section-only subscriptions, so readers who have a vested interest in the local dining scene can access reviews and other dining information without paying for the full price of a regular subscription.

The amount you charge for access to your website’s restaurant reviews or dining section is dependent on how much content you have and how much your readers are willing to pay. In most cases, we wouldn’t recommend charging more than $5 or $10 per month for access.

If you’d like advice on how to monetize restaurant reviews in your own publication, we’d love to help.

Make Money From a News Website

How to Make Money From a News Website — 5 Steps

When most entrepreneurs launch a news website, they focus on the hard work, dedication, and technical savvy that’s necessary to get a new project up and running. But what happens next is what really determines whether a news website flourishes or fails.

In order to make money from a news website, publishers need to know all the revenue streams that are out there, and which specific revenue streams are likely to work best for their publications. They should also understand that making money from a news website takes time. Even the founders of Berkeleyside, widely heralded as the gold-standard for local news publishing online, had to wait 18 months after launching to before they could start paying themselves a modest monthly salary.

Local news websites these days make the bulk of their revenue through display advertising, however newer strategies, like sponsorships, subscriptions, memberships, and live events, are all being used to help boost the bottom line.

Here are the first five steps online publishers should take if they want to make money from a news website.

5 steps to make money from a news website

Step 1: Focus on the content

Don’t jump into online advertising too quickly. Independent digital publishers, like Berkeleyside, typically wait at least six months after launch before they begin selling advertising packages to local businesses.

Before approaching any local businesses with advertising opportunities, we recommend digging into the most important aspect of any news website — the content. Work with your editors, reporters, photographers, and other content producers to create an editorial style that’s entirely unique. You may also want to write an editorial mission statement that clarifies the purpose of your publication.

Potential advertisers want to see what type of content their ads will be running alongside, and what sort of message the publication is putting out. With a few months worth of regular posts, your website will be much more attractive to potential advertisers.

Step 2: Approach local advertisers

Which businesses advertise in the daily newspaper or other local news websites in your area? These are the best businesses to start with as you begin exploring outside advertising opportunities and potential sponsorship deals, as these businesses have already demonstrated an affinity for the local press.

Hooking that first advertiser can take time, so don’t get frustrated if businesses say they want to hold off at first. Keep focusing on putting out solid reporting and building a core audience full of loyal (and local) readers, and businesses will eventually be persuaded to advertise.

Step 3: Consider pay-per-click advertising

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising can be controversial in the local news industry. PPC advertising is typically run through Google’s AdSense, however a number of other vendors cater to independent local news publishers, as well.

PPC advertising is not a favorite of local news publishers because rates are typically much lower than what publishers could earn by selling to advertisers directly. Most publishers earn between $0.50 to $2 per click. Popular websites with mass appeal can easily bring in thousands of dollars per month through PPC advertising. However, most independent local news websites cater to much smaller audiences. Thus, PPC advertising may not be the right fit for these publishers.

If you are still in the early stages of learning how to make money from a news website, and especially if you are still supplementing your direct sales, then PPC advertising can be a useful tool for filling display advertising slots that would otherwise sit empty.

Step 4: Start selling subscriptions

For all the reasons outlined above, display advertising is not always a great fit for independent news publishers with niche audiences. Rather than earning a few cents per click, publishers who want to make money from a news website will often have better luck focusing on their readership and selling subscriptions to their content.

The longer a publication has been in business, and the more content that publication puts out, the more successful a subscription program is likely to be. However, even younger publishers with a year or less under their belts, can have success with this strategy. (Check out this article on how to design the best subscription sign-up page to convert more readers.)

Step 5: Host live events

Live events are quickly becoming a substantial source of revenue for publishers, which is one of the reasons why we couldn’t leave this step off the list of ways to make money from a news website.

Industry conferences are an excellent source of revenue for niche publishers. Local news websites might consider hosting community forums or meet up events. In addition to selling tickets to attendees, publishers can also sell sponsorship packages to businesses.

Are you having trouble generating revenue from your news website? Get in contact with one of our digital publishing experts for a free video consultation, and we can get started putting together a plan to get you back on track.

Best Paywall Strategy

Metered, Hard, or Dynamic? Choosing the Best Paywall Strategy

The rise of the paywall has been well documented. While most digital publishers understand the value in restricting content to promote their subscription programs, there is still debate within the publishing community about which paywall strategy works best.

With advertising rates on the decline, digital publishers have largely turned to subscription programs to generate revenue and keep their publications afloat.

Unfortunately, what most publishers found as they implemented their subscription programs is that readers—even loyal readers—will not pay to subscribe to a publication without some sort of impetus. Publishers that were giving away content on their websites for free have discovered that cutting off the stream of available content is one of the fastest ways to boost subscription rates.

But what happens when you cut off all the content? Sure, loyal readers who know what they are missing might be encouraged to subscribe. First-time readers, on the other hand, are actually less likely to subscribe when a publisher restricts all free access to articles.

Finding a happy medium here has been harder than publishers anticipated, which is why there is still so much debate within the community about which paywall strategy is best.

Defining the Paywall Strategies

Hard Paywalls

The most restrictive paywall strategy for digital publishers is the hard paywall. In a publication with a hard paywall, non-subscribers are restricted from accessing any content without first subscribing or paying on a per-article basis.

Pros: Hard paywalls tend to be the most difficult to get around, which is a feat in today’s digital environment. Loyal readers are most likely to subscribe to a publication with a hard paywall, since they won’t be able to access any content—even five or 10 articles per month—without first signing up for a subscription.

Cons: The biggest downside of the hard paywall strategy is that non-subscribers can’t see what great content they are missing out on. Publishers can’t “hook” new readers with their great reporting if those readers can’t access that reporting. Hard paywalls can also lead to a sharp decrease in page views, which is a problem for publishers who rely on advertising revenue of any kind.

Metered Paywalls

With a metered paywall, website visitors can access a certain number of articles per month for free before they are cut off from access. The only way to read more articles past that point is to pay for a subscription. The New York Times is one of the most well-known publications to adopt this approach.

Pros: Unlike hard paywalls, metered paywalls encourage new readers to subscribe. With a metered paywall, casual readers get hooked on the publication’s top quality content, and then once they see the value, their access is revoked and they’re required to pay for more.

Cons: The metered paywall strategy is ripe for fraud. Whether it’s through the use of extensions, private browsing apps, or other widgets, readers who want to find a way around metered paywalls can surely do so.

Dynamic Paywalls

The dynamic paywall is a newer approach, pioneered by digital-first publications. Whereas a hard paywall restricts all non-subscribers, and a metered paywall places the same limitations on all non-subscribers, dynamic paywalls are designed to lure in readers who exhibit specific behaviors that suggest they are likely to subscribe to the publication. For example, when New York Magazine launched its dynamic paywall strategy last year, the company setup its paywall to appear more quickly for readers who spend lots of time consuming news across all of the company’s websites.

Pros: The dynamic paywall strategy is solely focused on data. Publishers are relying on website analytics and tracking data to pinpoint the readers most likely to subscribe. This strategy also lets the publisher soften or strengthen the paywall depending on advertising commitments. If the publication is running an important display advertising campaign one week, then the publisher might loosen up the paywall to allow enough readers in to drive scale.

Cons: Dynamic paywalls are sometimes considered to be too opaque. Although the idea is to optimize audiences and traffic, whether those goals are ever realized can be difficult for publishers to track.

Have you tried these paywall strategies at your publication? We’ve love to hear which paywall strategy you think works best for digital publishers today.

Fundraising Strategies for Digital Newsrooms

Top Fundraising Strategies for Digital Newsrooms

With more and more publishers switching to nonprofit status, we decided to take a close look at which fundraising strategies for digital newsrooms are most effective.

Around the country, hundreds of thousands of people are donating to their favorite news organizations. Creative publishers are pulling out all the stops to get their readers involved. Although some of the top fundraising strategies for digital newsrooms are straight out of the traditional charitable organization playbook, others are purely news-driven.

But first, a brief history to better understand how we got here.

Between the years 2010 and 2015, more than $1.8 billion in grants were given out in support of journalism. However, just 4.5% of those funds went toward nonprofit local reporting. Then, NewsMatch came into play. NewsMatch shook up the fundraising strategies for digital newsrooms, and gave publishers a new avenue to explore when it came to soliciting funds.

NewsMatch was born in 2017, when the Democracy Fund, the Knight Foundation, the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation came together. NewsMatch was designed to be a national matching-gift campaign, helping to grow fundraising capacity in nonprofit news organizations and promote giving to journalism among everyday donors.

Since its launch, NewsMatch has supported digital newsrooms in nearly every state. In its first year, NewsMatch worked with 109 newsrooms to raise nearly $5 million for local and investigative journalism. The organization inspired 43,000 new donors to give to nonprofit news.

But NewsMatch alone cannot sustain an industry. In order for nonprofit news organizations to thrive, they’ve got think about how they will continue raising money from donors and outside sources of support.

A number of nonprofit newsrooms have already started down this path. In 2018, individuals donated more than $116 million to journalism organizations. (That’s a 50% increase from 2017.)

We’ve compiled a list of the fundraising strategies for digital newsrooms that were used most successfully by nonprofit publishers last year, along with insights into how your publication can implement the same methods. Here’s what we learned.

Top Fundraising Strategies for Digital Newsrooms

1. Matched Donations
Is there a local group that frequently sponsors your publication? What about a particularly loyal business advertiser? Try asking that group or business to match the funds collected from donors during a specific day or month.

These sorts of fundraising strategies for digital newsrooms can be incredibly successful, since donors are more eager to show their support when they know their donations are being matched. Large businesses benefit from supporting these types of projects, as well, in the form of goodwill and positive consumer sentiment.

2. Employee Giving Programs
More and more companies are running employee giving programs as a way to encourage their employees to give back to charitable organizations. You might be wondering how these programs work and how they can benefit nonprofit local news groups.

In most cases, employees simply select a charity from a list provided by their employers. They make donations directly from their paychecks, and the companies they work for match those donations.

Participating in these types of programs as a nonprofit news organization is as simple as registering with a few third-party platforms. Start by registering with YourCause, Benevity, and Causecast. These are three of the most popular platforms being used right now. If your city has a large company that offers an employee giving program, you should call that company’s HR office to see which platform they use. Once you’ve gotten registered, you can promote the fundraising strategy through email marketing or with in-house display ads on your own website.

3. The Institute for Nonprofit News
NewsMatch raised $7.6 million in 2018. The bulk of that money went to the publishers in 154 newsrooms. How did those publishers get those funds? They simply signed up. The newsrooms benefiting most from NewsMatch’s fundraising efforts are all members of the Institute for Nonprofit News, a network of nonprofit newsrooms around the country. Membership dues are based on what news organizations can afford to pay, with most publishers paying between $50 and $350 per year. In exchange for those dues, members get specialized training in revenue generation, along with fiscal sponsors, business training, and content syndication through NewsTex and NewsBank.

4. Sponsorships
When it comes to the top fundraising strategies for digital newsrooms, no strategy is more popular—or effective—than soliciting sponsors. Sponsorships help to create more stable economics for local publishers, and unlike traditional advertising, they are typically relationship driven. What does that mean? With advertising, you’re selling a product. With sponsorships, you’re selling a relationship.

For example, American City Business Journals has offered page sponsorships on its topic pages. Those page sponsors feel invested in the topics they’re sponsoring. In some cases, sponsors may actually be experts on their topics, with the ability to suggest new story ideas to the publication’s reporters.

The key to successfully selling sponsorships is to first understand what your publication is offering to businesses that decide to become sponsors. How will becoming a sponsor help the business? What can your publication do for that company?

Do you have other fundraising strategies for digital newsrooms that have been successful? We’ve love to hear more about what’s worked for your publications.

Premium Features

Offer More Premium Features in 2019

What sort of premium features would entice you to pay for an online publication?

It’s a question digital publishers are grappling with, and one that they must find an answer to in 2019 if they wish to survive—and thrive—in the competitive media landscape.

The business model for digital journalism is changing, with more and more publications adopting a paid model. According to the American Press Institute, 78% of newspapers with circulations of at least 50,000 have “some form of paid model,” the most common of which is a metered model. With the metered model, readers can access a certain number of articles for free (usually five or 10 per month), after which they must subscribe for full access.

Even publications that are not for-profit are trying out this model. A number of non-profit news publishers have started membership programs, where readers join for access to content. Funding from memberships makes up the bulk of these publishers’ budgets, as they do not have programmatic advertising or display advertising revenue to fall back on.

Non-profit and for-profit publishers must make sure their membership and subscription programs are on point if they expect to drive enough volume to succeed. Research has found that the most engaged 5% to 10% of a publisher’s audience will convert into paying subscribers. For these readers, being cut off from access after five or 10 articles each month is enough to spur action and drive conversions. For many others, however, there needs to be something more.

In 2019, we expect to see a greater number of digital publishers offering premium features as part of their membership and subscription programs.

What Types of Premium Features Do Readers Want?

The No. 1 thing engaged news consumers want is original content. That’s right. Readers don’t need all the bells and whistles, videos, or social media campaigns. They want premium, original reporting. This reporting should inform, educate, benefit, and entertain the readers of a publication. When those marks are all being hit, publishers can expect to see a high level of subscription or membership renewals.

Of course, all content is not created equal. While most digital news websites traffic in written content, there is a great demand among readers for video content, as well. Video on-demand is one of the most requested premium features among online news readers. Some publishers are beginning to meet this demand by launching their own branded video on-demand services or exclusive video channels that are available only to paid subscribers.

One publisher that has found particular success using premium features to encourage readers to become paying members is Slate. Slate Magazine’s Slate Plus membership costs $35 for the first year, and comes with premium features like ad-free versions of the publisher’s podcasts, extended versions of the publisher’s podcasts, access to a library of Slate Academies, early access and ticket discounts to Slate events, and access to a private Facebook group where fellow Slate fans can talk about the publication and the news of the day.

One thing you might notice is that most of Slate’s premium features are free for the publisher. For example, creating a private Facebook group for members of Slate Plus is free, and so is offering ad-free versions of the publisher’s existing podcasts. Bonus content, like extended interviews or behind-the-scenes clips from videos, provide extra value for readers without costing the publication much financially, as well.

This is a valuable lesson for publishers. Premium features don’t have to cost a fortune to be valuable to members. Most of Slate Plus’ premium features are designed to save members time or to enrich their lives in some way. For example, getting through podcasts without ads saves listeners time, and having access to a library of Slate Academies is enriching for readers.

Slate got some help determining which premium features to offer members of its Slate Plus program. The company surveyed its members to find out what they wanted and what sort of categories of content they would be most willing to support.

Publishers who take the time to survey their readers in this same way can be sure that the premium features they are offering are actually valuable, upping the chances of success with their new membership programs.

Have you thought about offering premium features to your site’s members? We’d love to hear more about which features and benefits are driving conversions for your publication.

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.