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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.