The New York Times has halved its free monthly articles to 5, its most significant paywall change since 2012

The great paywall tightening of 2017 continues. The New York Times said Friday that it will cut the number of free articles available to “most” non-subscribers each month from 10 to five, Bloomberg reported. The change is the most significant one the Times has made to its pay model since 2012, when it cut the number of monthly free articles from 20 to 10. (According to Bloomberg, “The Times may eventually offer a different number of free articles to non-subscribers based on how they arrive or their reading habits.”) Continue reading “The New York Times has halved its free monthly articles to 5, its most significant paywall change since 2012”

Inside the Guardian’s consumer-revenue operation

The Guardian is now making more money from paid memberships than advertising revenue. Since February, it has grown paying members from 200,000 to 500,000, while one-off contributions have gone from 100,000 to 300,000 during the same time period. Half of those 300,000 contributions come from the U.S. and equate to £7 million ($9 million), according to the publisher.

Building consumer revenue has been a cross-departmental effort involving around 50 people across editorial, marketing, commercial and user experience. Now, with a year’s worth of data under its belt, it’s easier to spot patterns of behavior and preferences across different markets — information it will use to help with attracting more paying members, retaining existing ones and preventing churn, according to Natalie Hanman, executive editor of Guardian Membership. Continue reading “Inside the Guardian’s consumer-revenue operation”

How The Times of London drives its 1.8 million registered-access users to subscribe

Like other publishers, The Times of London wants to build up a stable subscriber base, but it’s a long and strenuous journey. Working out the content and formats that drive interest and then pushing readers to subscribe is a continuous learning experience.

The Times has signed up 1.8 million people to its registered-access model — people can read two articles a week in exchange for an email address — since introducing the option in May 2016. It hit 450,000 subscribers, 210,000 of whom are digital-only, this month.

Between March 2016 and March 2017, subscribers grew 8 percent. That might not seem like much, but growth had stagnated before that, said Nick Petrie, deputy head of digital at the Times and Sunday Times.

“Journeys are complicated,” Petrie said at Digiday’s Publishing Summit Europe in Berlin. “Do we show someone who came to us through a sports article more sports coverage, or do we show our breadth? The question is, how effective can we be? And we don’t know.”

The publisher is testing different messages to people unknown to the Times to drive direct subscriptions or registered-access sign-ups, Petrie said. Before the experiment, users landing on an article page were offered the option to subscribe or register for access. Now, the subscription message has recently started mentioning pricing.

Growing the pool of prospects with the right type of audience is also important. Last week, the Times created a game ahead of the Premier League season where viewers act as a football referee and judge whether a shot was offside. The first round was free to play; to play the next round, users had to register or subscribe, which led to 12,000 registrations to play the next level. In May, a piece about pop star Harry Styles from the Sunday Times Magazine drove high registered-access sign-ups, but it’s unlikely a high percentage of audiences will convert to a subscription.

To draw statistically significant conclusions about how to grow audiences and convert them to subscribers, the Times needed over a year’s worth of subscriber data to account for cases like someone being a registered-access user for seven months before converting. And like other publishers, the Times has a number of different subscription campaigns, including one offering eight weeks of digital access for £8 ($10.50); a digital subscription usually costs £26 ($34) a month.

Newsroom analytics can show what content drives direct subscriptions, registered-access users or conversions, but this data isn’t helpful on its own. “Stories are individual; we have to try and unpick backward the commonalities — the way it was written, the tone, the format and layout — to make it useful.” said Petrie. “Otherwise, it leads you down the wrong path.”

The post How The Times of London drives its 1.8 million registered-access users to subscribe appeared first on Digiday.

Taking the guesswork out of paid user acquisition

A simple tool to estimate the right budget to grow your audience

Developers often want to know whether they should spend money on user acquisition, and what the key factors are to help inform their decision.

There are many useful tools and models to help with this question. After working closely with our key partners in South East Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, and spending many hours testing, my team created a simple but useful calculator to help you answer this question.

First, I’ll describe the inputs you need to use the calculator and explain how the results can help developers make better-informed decisions about paid user acquisition. I’ll also share an example of how one developer used this lifetime value (LTV) calculator and generated significant value for their business.

Before I continue, however, a word of caution. This LTV calculator — or indeed any LTV calculator — is simply a guide to assist in making decisions about paid user acquisition. It helps you predict the LTV you’ll see from acquired users and therefore what spend is sensible to achieve this return. The model makes assumptions about the impact of investment, CPI, organic spin-offs, payer rate, engagement rate, and portfolio effect. These assumptions aren’t guaranteed or confirmed. Additionally, estimates of buyer rate, ARPPU, and advertising revenue per user will need to be set based on your app’s data. Where I can, I’ll show you where to find those numbers.

OK, so that keeps the folks in the legal department happy, just one more note before we jump into the real details. The calculator uses US ($USD) as the default currency, but you can easily substitute your local currency. The important thing to remember is to make sure all the data you use is specific to the country or region you want to target and relevant to your app and its type or genre. It may seem obvious, but don’t use US figures for a casual game to plan a campaign for a messaging app targeting India.

As you read the next section, you might want to download the LTV Calculator to see how it uses these inputs. You’ll notice that the download includes the option to request a member of the app marketing team to contact you. This team’s job is to help app developers create and execute online marketing strategies and can help you determine the best values to use in the calculator.

LTV calculator inputs

Investment: This is how much to spend on user acquisition. If you plan to use universal app campaigns, start with a daily budget 50-times your target CPI. This level of investment will help AdWords’ machine learning algorithms optimize. So, with a $2.50 CPI target your daily budget would be $125 or approximately $3.7k per month. Another way to view investment is to set it so that you acquire a statistically relevant sample size, enabling you to understand user engagement and LTV with confidence, the goal should be approximately 5000 users.

Cost Per Install (CPI): This is the cost of generating one install. Note that CPIs vary by country as well as app and game genre or category.

Organic spin-off (K-factor): Studies have shown that paid installs can boost organic installs (organic growth) because of spillover from word of mouth and social sharing as well as installs from any listing in a store top apps chart. The K-factor measures the number of organic installs generated by each paid install, with 0 indicating that paid installs generate no additional organic installs.

Buyer rate: The percentage of the user base that makes in-app purchases. You can find the rate from your Play Console: Select your app, open User Acquisition, click on Acquisition reports, and select Buyers.

Buyer rate multiple: This variable represents the multiple by which users from a paid acquisition campaign become payers compared to users acquired organically. To illustrate, if 1% of organic users made purchases in the app while 2% of paid users made purchases, the buyer rate multiple is 2. Well targeted acquisition should achieve a multiple greater than 1 while more generic, mass-market targeting may result in a multiple of less than 1.

Average Revenue Per Paying User (ARPPU): This is the average of the revenue expected from each user who makes at least one purchase between their first and last use of the app. You can find the rate for your app from the Play Console revenue and buyer data reports: Select your app, open Financial Reports, and on the Buyers page select ARPPU.

Average advertising revenue per user: This is the revenue you generate from showing ads to a user over their lifetime and should include revenue from rewarded and non-rewarded ads. Remember, in line with the other figures you’re using, to include ad revenue from the country or region you are running the model for. The ‘Ad Revenue Calculation’ section of the model is designed to help you calculate this value. To get started, you’ll need to access your advertising dashboard: find the total ad revenue generated for a month and divide it by the number of active users in that month. You then need your retention figures for day 1, 7, 14, 28, 60, and 90; these can be found using a third-party analytics tool or Google Analytics for Firebase. The model uses the 90-day value, but you can substitute the 28-day or 60-day values, if you want to be conservative in your calculations.

Engagement rate multiplier: This multiplier reflects how much more engaged users acquired from paid installs are compared to users acquired organically. To illustrate, if users acquired from a paid campaign stick around longer, that is they show improved retention, you could expect to see a higher multiple. Well targeted acquisition should achieve a multiple greater than 1 while more generic, mass-market targeting may result in a multiple less than 1.

Portfolio effect multiple: If you’ve a portfolio of apps, that is, more than 1 app, a paid install may generate additional value by driving the installation and generation of revenue from other apps in the portfolio. Use of tools, such as house ads, would help maximize this multiple.

Using the LTV calculator

Once you’ve gathered the numbers relevant to your app and the region you’re going to promote it in, plug them into the calculator. In my example, I’m working with a campaign investment of US$5,000, have a K-factor of 2, buyer rate multiple of 1.5, and engagement multiple of 1.3, but no portfolio multiple. The ARPPU and ad revenue figures I pulled from the Play Console.

Example figures plugged into the LTV calculator.

In this example, return of advertising spend (ROAS) is over 100% so a paid acquisition campaign should have a positive return.

And the result? I can see that a paid campaign alone won’t deliver a positive return. However, organic spin-off will pick up additional users and revenue that lifts the return on advertising spend (ROAS) to a healthy 110%.

In general, using the calculator as a decision-making tool is simple. If ROAS is over 100% you should return a profit from a paid acquisition campaign. Less than 100% and you probably won’t see a benefit. In the example, we have a ROAS of 110% so it makes sense to go ahead with a campaign.

However, even if the calculator returns a positive result — unless you’ve been testing extensively to determine your organic spin-off and other multiples — it’s worth running a test campaign to confirm your assumptions.

If the calculator says that paid acquisition isn’t worthwhile, you can adjust the CPI to find the level that offers a return. However, rather than chasing a lower CPI, you may be better served by looking to improve your app’s fundamentals, such as retention, monetization, and social functionality (virality). Once these metrics have improved, look again at the value of a paid acquisition campaign.

The LTV calculator in action

Not Doppler, an Australian games developer, used the LTV calculator to decide whether paid user acquisition made sense for Crash of Cars.

The calculator provided Not Doppler with a clear understanding of the total revenue (both from ads and in-app purchases) they generated from a user over their lifetime engagement with Crash of Cars. While the calculator aims to answer the question of whether paid user acquisition is likely to be beneficial, for Not Doppler it also dispelled several misconceptions.

Misconception 1: User acquisition is expensive

“High CPIs had been an initial barrier to entry for us, given we questioned the feasibility of UA with our ad-heavy business model. Through education and controlled testing we were able to profitably acquire a substantial volume of users in the US at CPIs of less than US$1.” — Jason Daskalopoulos, Senior Business & Marketing Manager, Not Doppler

Misconception 2: All users are equal

When Not Doppler ran paid (non-incentivized) campaigns they saw a higher quality of user compared to their organic acquisitions.

We saw that the paid pre-qualified users who installed and opened Crash of Cars via an ad were 1.8-times more likely to spend in the game versus those who came in organically.”- Jason Daskalopoulos, Senior Business & Marketing Manager, Not Doppler

Misconception 3: Calculating ad revenue LTV

With in-app advertising playing a significant role in Not Doppler’s monetization strategy, it was important that they correctly calculated the average revenue generated per user over their lifetime.

The Model allowed us to better understand the ad revenue we generated from showing users ads in our game over their lifetime. By looking at the relationship between ad revenue per daily active users and retention in the US we were able to calculate the revenue we generated from ads over a 30, 60, and 90 day period.” — Jason Daskalopoulos, Senior Business & Marketing Manager, Not Doppler

Misconception 4: Organic spin-off

Soft launching Crash of Cars allowed Not Doppler to calculate the effect of organic spin-off (K-factor) from the game. Interestingly, Not Doppler made a deliberate effort to avoid Crash of Cars appearing in the store top charts and generating organic installs from there. This was because they wanted to discover what percent of additional installs were generated by paid traffic through social sharing, word-of-mouth, or other forms of user driven, unpaid promotion.

Through controlled testing we were able to measure the incremental lift we gained in organic users through paid marketing.” — Jason Daskalopoulos, Senior Business & Marketing Manager, Not Doppler

Try it yourself

Wondering what all this might mean for your user acquisition? There is a simple way to find out, download the LTV Calculator and plug in your app’s numbers! If you’d like to find out more about paid user acquisition or have any further questions about the blog or model, use the “I would like the app marketing team to contact me” option when downloading the LTV calculator and someone from my team will get in touch.

New to using ads to promote your app?

If you haven’t advertised your app or game before, we provide a simple way to get started with Google AdWords’ universal app campaigns. You can set up a universal app campaign in the Google Play Console in a few clicks. Google automatically optimizes your campaign to find users who are most likely to install your app at your target cost per install across Google’s networks including Google Play, Search, YouTube, and the Google Display Network. When you fill in the form for the lifetime value calculator, tick the box if you want to hear from an AdWords expert about setting up and running universal app campaigns for your app.

What do you think?

Do you have any comments on calculating LTV? Continue the discussion in the comments below or tweet using the hashtag #AskPlayDev and we’ll reply from @GooglePlayDev, where we regularly share news and tips on how to be successful on Google Play.


Taking the guesswork out of paid user acquisition was originally published in Google Play Apps & Games on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

How The Times of London grew its registered users to 1.2 million

Like a lot of newspapers, The Times of London is trying to grow its paying subscriber base. But going in cold with a subscriptions message to non-Times readers doesn’t always work. That’s why the Times has focused on getting people to register as a first step toward asking them to pay.

During the past year, the Times did six months of rigorous testing into what would get people to register for access to two free articles on its site, which has a hard paywall. Getting readers to return for the second article took additional prompts, as did converting those who returned into paying subscribers. As a result, it got 1.2 million users to register, and initial tests show they’re four times more likely to subscribe than those who aren’t registered, according to the publisher.

The Times has 430,000 paying subscribers, 185,000 of which are digital.

“If we take anonymous users and push them through a buying journey and they bounce, we basically have a 30-day anonymous cookie. Unless [we] can convert them in 30 days, [they] just go back to being anonymous. We wanted to bridge that gap,” said Chris Duncan, managing director of the Times.

The Times assigned eight people from marketing, editorial, audience development and product to monitor which articles drove the highest upticks in registrations, decide where to focus social media spend to boost those articles on social platforms and then tweaking the design of marketing messages around them to prompt conversions once users clicked through to the Times’ desktop and mobile sites.

The Times used social platforms as the main shopfront, posting articles marked for registration pushes to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Users that clicked through were taken to a landing page showing the headline and a 100-word preview of the article, where they’d be asked to register. From that point, the bulk of the experiments occurred.

“We experimented with the tone and wording of messages, their position on the page, whether we interrupted with a pop-up or a bar floating at the top of the page and what we did on mobile compared to desktop. We’d tweak and refine on a weekly basis, based on the data,” said Nick Petrie, deputy digital editor of the Times.

In-depth analysis and exclusives, profiles and opinion pieces are the Times’ bread and butter, and the registration drive reflected that. Politics and lifestyle pieces drove high numbers of registrations, though articles were selected for registration pushes on a daily basis from across the news agenda. Increases have occurred gradually rather than in big waves, with the exception of a few major news events like the death of well-known restaurant critic and Times columnist AA Gill in December, and an exclusive interview with Donald Trump, the former U.K. justice secretary and Times columnist Michael Gove in January. Petrie said both stories drove “considerable” sign-up, but wouldn’t give specifics.

One of the biggest challenges was nudging users that had clicked through to an article on a Facebook post into completing their sign-ups. That’s where the most drop-offs would occur. Reducing the number of fields they had to complete for free access helped. Requests for phone number and location, which the publisher could infer from IP addresses, were therefore dropped.

Those who registered automatically received the Times’ daily email newsletter, which features editorially curated highlights from that day’s editions. The email was particularly useful in driving people to their second free-access article.

Users didn’t respond well to the use of loud colors and aggressively worded messages in overly prominent places, so the Times adjusted accordingly. Those who returned a third time were sent more urgent prompts to subscribe, including a full-page message informing them their free access had ended, and that to see the article they had clicked on, they would need to subscribe.

The Times is considering making video available to non-subscribers, Petrie said. That said, the publisher won’t succumb to the scale trap anytime soon.

“There comes a point when you stop looking at the big reach figure and only care for the conversions. The target is making a channel that drives weekly subscription acquisitions,” Duncan said. “A lot of our targets will be around the efficiencies and sophistication of how we tell when people are ready [to convert].”

The post How The Times of London grew its registered users to 1.2 million appeared first on Digiday.

Bloomberg Businessweek gets a two-tiered paywall, a substantial price increase, and a new look

Bloomberg Businessweek has a big new interview with Apple CEO Tim Cook — and it would really like you to pay to read it. Businessweek launched a two-tiered metered paywall (and a resdesigned site, app, and weekly print magazine) Thursday. There’s also “a new regionalized email newsletter,” Daily IQ, only for subscribers.

Here are the paywall details from Bloomberg’s announcement post:

Bloomberg Businessweek is shifting to a two-tiered membership model: Digital Only, which includes access to the app, Daily IQ, unlimited access to Businessweek content online, and 6-8 special print issues a year; and All Access, which grants all digital benefits plus the weekly print magazine, quarterly conference calls, and live-streams of key events. A metered paywall is now in effect for Businessweek content online and readers without membership will have access to four free stories per month.

The digital-only access costs $12 for the first 12 weeks, and $15 per 12 weeks thereafter (so, $65 a year). The full package is $12 for the first 12 weeks and $25 per 12 weeks thereafter, about $108 a year.

Businessweek appears to be taking pages from the playbook of some digital outlets. The Information also offers conference calls and exclusive events to its subscribers, who pay $399 a year, and also focuses on affluent professionals who can pay (there are student rates as well). Axios wants to reach a similar audience and is thinking about a subscription tier as high as $10,000, though it’s entirely free for now. The difference between The Information/Axios and Bloomberg is that Businessweek is also saddled/blessed with a print publication.

The Financial Times reports:

The new pricing is a substantial increase from the average $40 per year that Businessweek charges for the print magazine. [Bloomberg Media CEO Justin Smith] said the aim was to position the title at “the premium end of the market.” As a result, the magazine has cut its rate base — circulation promised to advertisers — from 1m in January to 600,000, phasing out bulk subscriptions and what Mr. Smith called “the lowest value subscribers.”

“We’ve tried to focus on smart, clever people who have more money than time on their hands,” John Micklethwait, Bloomberg editor-in-chief, told the FT. (Micklethwait used be at The Economist, which could have made a similar value proposition.) “We know that from the terminal, from what Bloomberg has achieved, [the goal] is to find people who are willing to pay money to get very high-quality information and journalism. That’s what we’re trying to replicate.”

Membership programs are paying off for news outlets — and so is helping them set up their programs

If you want readers to donate, you have to ask — often. It sounds obvious, but it’s a strategy many news organizations have been forced to become more comfortable with, and one that takes a lot of resources to really get right.

Before Hawaii’s Honolulu Civil Beat went nonprofit in late June of last year, it was charging $4.99 a month for access to its paywalled site, already significantly lowered from the $19.99 price point it tried out at launch. It had 1,100 recurring subscribers.

Since going nonprofit and starting a membership drive, average recurring monthly donations to the Pierre Omidyar-backed online news site rose to $12 — that’s $144 a year versus $60, even with all the stories free to read. It now has around 1,500 members.

“We haven’t reached our ceiling in terms of the number of donors, which continues to go up month after month,” Ben Nishimoto, director of philanthropy for the Civil Beat, said. “We’re seeing all the metrics of a healthy membership program, and a lot of that has to do with the structure and advice that the News Revenue Hub has offered.”

Civil Beat was among the first five organizations to join the News Revenue Hub, which for a fee takes on the heavy lifting of setting up membership programs — the software, the recruitment and retention, the messaging and maintenance — and facilitates an exchange of insights among participating outlets. The Hub, the brainchild of Mary Walter-Brown, first began last fall as an initiative of the nonprofit news site Voice of San Diego, an exemplar of sustainable digital news membership.

After helping the five pilot news organizations together raise more than a million dollars in half a year, News Revenue Hub has spun off into its own standalone organization, led by Walter-Brown (who’s now its CEO) with digital manager Tristan Loper (also previously of Voice of San Diego). It launched at a time when many news organizations were trying to rethink their mission and messaging post-U.S. election. Walter-Brown is now hoping to continue its early successes, adding five new organizations. (We’ve written separately about The Marshall Project and The Intercept’s challenges; the full list: InsideClimate News, NJ Spotlight, Honolulu Civil Beat, The Lens, PolitiFact, The Marshall Project, The Intercept, CalMatters, Youth Radio, and Rivard Report.) The Democracy Fund will continue to support some of the overhead costs for participating outlets.

“It’s been great from a couple of perspectives: The first, basically learning how to do this kind of fundraising, and then also, realizing there’s a definite benefit to asking often of people, more often than I think as organizations we previously felt comfortable doing, and that’s been gratifying,” Beth Daley, director of strategic development at InsideClimate News, said. “The support we have from individual members is dwarfed by support we get from foundations, for instance, but foundations also like to see that we’re diversifying our funding.” (In addition to money from memberships, InsideClimate News is also looking to raise $25,000 from readers to fund one reporting trip exploring the impacts of climate change across the U.S.)

“At first, I thought, gosh, I hope this wasn’t just this weird enigma. It’s starting to become more predictable, which is what I’m excited about,” Walter-Brown said. “We’re starting to see that membership can work for a PolitiFact, an InsideClimate News — organizations with national and global readers — that it can work for The Lens, NJ Spotlight, Civil Beat. And we’re now seeing the same thing for The Intercept — an international site focused on privacy and surveillance issues — when we weren’t sure how that was going to resonate with readers.” There’s already a bit of a waiting list of organizations eager to join, Walter-Brown said, and the Hub is looking to bring several more into the fold this year.

“We evaluate each client based on whether they have a base big enough and diverse enough to make it worth their while, whether they have the internal staff willing to dedicate the amount of time and energy to this that’s needed, whether they have the buy-in from the top, whether hey support the principle of building a true relationship with your audience,” Walter-Brown said. “It’s clear when you go through these conversations. There are some where I just say, ‘You’re not ready, but here are some tools you can use to build your audience, and let’s talk in six months.’ We don’t turn people away with a blanket ‘no.’”

While most of the organizations currently in the Hub are nonprofits, it’s not a requirement: PolitiFact, one of the five original pilot outlets, isn’t a nonprofit. It launched its program just before Donald Trump’s inauguration in January, and has since raised $200,000 in contributions and pledged donations. Three quarters of its members are part of the “informed” or “involved” tiers ($50 to $150 and $151-$500); only “a few dozen individuals have contributed $500 or more,” according to Emily Wilkinson, PolitiFact’s then-business development director.

Nor, of course, is a large national following a requirement. NJ Spotlight has added 470 members since it started its membership program, raising $86,000 most at the “engaged” or “informed” levels (a minimum $35 to $100; then $101-$500), Paula Saha, who oversees events, audience, and donor development at New Jersey state-focused nonprofit news service, told me.

“Most of them came in during our winter drive, but we’ve had a steady trickle since,” Saha said, crediting a well-tailored email campaign that starts with soft asks that get stronger as readers become increasingly familiar with the work NJ Spotlight does. “It’s been really nice to see the steady trickle; with recurring donors, it’s obviously a gift that keeps on giving, quite literally.” NJ Spotlight has worked to impress upon readers the value of memberships: happy hours, coffees, an intimate event for members with Senator Cory Booker (from the dedicated Slack group for News Revenue Hub organizations, it’s also gotten some ideas for events like trivia nights).

The News Revenue Hub, especially by facilitating technical setup and helping organizations understand and use better metrics (syncing Eventbrite with Salesforce, for instance), has freed up outlets to actually get to know their most dedicated readers. Honolulu Civil Beat has been able to host regular community events, such as taking groups out to neighboring islands or continuing its storyteller series, Mariko Chang, the Civil Beat’s membership and events manager, told me.

“Ben [Nishimoto] and I try to call all of our new donors as well, which takes people by surprise,” she said. “We let them know they can come to us if they have concerns. We ask them ways we can do our jobs better. It’s been helpful to have the time and resources now to make those personal connections while we can.”

The Hub itself will remain a small staff through the rest of 2017, but it also receives additional foundation support and is looking to raise half a million more to help with expansion.

“We’re hoping to be able to scale accordingly — eventually there may be different tiers of service, maybe a full-service option where they only need someone part-time and we’re providing more of the copywriting and execution. Then others may want to bring on a full staff like we had at Voice of San Diego, with an events manager, a digital manager,” Walter-Brown said. “I’m excited to explore what the service will look like in the long term, whether it’s an incubator for some organizations, a centralized place where they outsource tasks, for organizations that only want to focus on editorial.”

Chairs of different colors, by Steve, used under a Creative Commons license.

Incognito no more: The Boston Globe’s tightened paywall pays dividends

The Boston Globe in May closed a loophole that enabled people to skirt its paywall by using their browser’s incognito mode and reduced the number of free articles visitors can read in 45 days without paying, from five to two.

Since then, the number of people who subscribe after hitting the paywall has tripled, and the number of people who subscribed after hitting the incognito loophole has increased about four percent, said Peter Doucette, chief consumer revenue officer at the Globe. A digital sub costs on average $20 a month.

“We’ve been pretty encouraged by the results,” Doucette said. “We’ve seen an increase in subscriptions, and the conversion rate is a little better than we thought it would be. There’s not a pronounced effect on traffic.”

The Globe has gotten some pushback on Reddit, where a Boston subreddit already bans links to publishers that require a login or subscription. A note posted by the moderator said the section is mulling how it applies to the Boston Globe’s incognito move. People go incognito so their browser won’t keep a record of the pages they’ve visited (and in the Globe’s case, get around the article threshold).

The debate is reminiscent of a debate on Reddit last year around ad blocking. At the time, the popular technology subreddit debated whether to block people from posting links from publishers that make ad blockers disable the blocker to access the publisher’s site.

“There’s a wide range of actions we can take here from completely ignoring the situation to outright blocking paywalled links from ever being submitted,” the moderator of the Boston subreddit wrote. “The right approach might lay somewhere in the middle, I don’t really know. This is why we’re asking for your feedback on the issue so we can understand the community’s take on it.”

About 8 percent of Globe visitors were browsing incognito, according to Doucette, and the Globe saw an opportunity to convert some of them into paying customers. The Globe is heavily reader-driven — it gets about twice as much revenue from readers as it does from advertising — and the paywall moves are part of its mission is to grow its digital subscriptions, which now stands at about 85,000, by 33 percent a year.

“Our No. 1 objective is to grow our digital subscribers,” he said. “We think long term, that’s going to be the biggest part of our sustainable business model.”

The uptick is encouraging news for a news industry that’s trying to find a sustainable model for online journalism. As of June 8, the Globe had a fair amount of support among the 145 comments on the subreddit thread, at a time when growing number of publishers have cracked down on paywall or ad avoiders. Recent examples include The Wall Street Journal closing its first-click-free loophole that lets people bypass its paywall by reading articles via Google search; and The Atlantic requiring people to turn off their ad blocker or pay to read an ad-free version of its site.

While some commenters argued for continuing to ban sites that require a subscription or login, some even putting the Globe’s news product on a par with Facebook (“It is unfair to make an exception for bostonglobe, it should be banned just like facebook. It’s actually even worse than facebook because you have to pay while facebook is free”), others said exceptions should be made altogether or when the Globe has an exclusive story.

Wrote one: “The Globe is basically the only reputable newspaper in Boston. What are the alternatives if you ban it?” Added another: “I’ve lately been more willing to pay for content than I used to be. The trend of ‘sponsored’ articles, and publications cutting staff which reduces their ability to actually provide quality content, is scary – we need honest journalism if we hope to continue having a free society.”

“Fundamentally, a lot of people respect the work the Globe does,” Doucette said. “I do think that quality seems as important now as ever. We’re a beneficiary of that as well.”

The post Incognito no more: The Boston Globe’s tightened paywall pays dividends appeared first on Digiday.

The Boston Globe is getting smarter about digital subscriptions — and tightening up its paywall

Earlier this month, BostonGlobe.com readers were surprised to find that a popular way of skirting the site’s paywall had been quietly closed. By visiting the site in their browser’s private mode, readers were able to circumvent the site’s free article limit, letting them read more articles than they would otherwise. And that wasn’t the only major change to the site’s paywall recently: At the end of April, the Globe also cut back on the number of articles it let visitors read for free every 45 days — from five articles to a mere two.

These changes, while jarring to many readers, are part of the Globe’s ongoing strategy to “strike the right balance between giving users the opportunity to sample content and getting them to subscribe,” said Peter Doucette, chief consumer revenue officer at Boston Globe Media. “We’ve been constantly experimenting with finding that balance, because fundamentally we believe the Globe’s journalism is worth paying for.” A lot of people agree: The Globe’s digital subscriber count currently sits at roughly 84,000, up from around 65,000 a year ago. That’s the most of any local newspaper in the country.

Doucette said the Globe is happy with the early results of its latest tweaks, and has “no specific plans to restrict the paywall further.” But further changes seem inevitable considering the many changes BostonGlobe.com has gone through over the years in an effort to get more people to pay. The site debuted with a hard paywall in 2011, targeting its most committed, regular web readers and offering its print subscribers an exclusive extra. (The free, ad-supported Boston.com, in contrast, was aimed at a more casual audience). The Globe switched gears just three years later when it introduced a more leaky metered paywall, which The New York Times had by then shown could be a successful approach. Over time, the newspaper has continually tweaked and refined its approach, opening and closing exceptions to its paywall meter. In a recent effort, for example, the Globe has stopped counting Google AMP links towards the meter.

Tim Griggs, an independent media consultant and the former publisher of The Texas Tribune, said that the beauty of the metered paywall is that it gives news organizations plenty of flexibility to tweak how many free articles to offer readers, how often to reset the meter, what factors affect the meter, and how to message all of this to potential subscribers. If a hard paywall is a hammer, the metered paywall is a scalpel. “It’s an elegant solution when done with the right data rigor and the right user experience,” Griggs said in an email. “Many news sites aren’t so great at either of those things.” Indeed, former Globe executive and Nieman Fellow David Skok wrote for us last year about the importance of using reader data and predictive analytics to determine optimal times to raise or lower the paywall:

Imagine a reader browsing the web on their smartphone while on a train heading into work. They click on a link through Reddit and arrive on your news site where they are served a paywall. Using predictive analytics, we are quite certain that this Reddit mobile reader will not subscribe to your website. In fact, the reader may even post on Reddit just how much she despises your paywall. So, instead of wasting our time trying to get that reader to subscribe, what other kinds of value can you exchange with her that could be of mutual benefit? Perhaps it’s an email newsletter signup form that could begin an inbound marketing relationship? Perhaps it’s a video preroll ad with a high CPM to generate maximum ad revenue? Perhaps it’s a prompt for the reader to “like” you on Facebook so that they can help expand your reach?

There’s a lot of evidence news organizations are getting more nuanced with their approaches — and that over time has resulted in paywalls with fewer holes, not more. The Wall Street Journal, which has put most stories behind a hard paywall since the 1990s, recently closed a feature that let visitors skirt restrictions by pasting a story’s headline in Google. It also recently killed of a secret (yet surprisingly well-known) free login popular among those in media circles. With the moves, it joined The Washington Post, which has been testing efforts to close loopholes that let visitors access its content for free.

Premium news organizations in 2017 are in a constant process of opening and closing paywall loopholes, depending on their goals. Griggs illustrated how the early parts of this process worked at The New York Times, which from 2011 to 2013 evaluated how to handle and respond to “avoidance behaviors” such as cookie deletion. One finding was that people who deleted cookies to avoid the Times’ paywall were also more likely to subscribe than people who did not delete cookies — likely because those cookie deleters were also some of the most frequent readers. When news organizations recognize this kind of behavior, they’re able to try new ways of reaching those readers, such as targeting them with specific soft messaging. News organizations can repeat this process for each of the various workarounds, all of which necessitate their own specific approaches.

Griggs agreed that, as publishers get smarter about understanding reader behavior, their paywalls tend to get less leaky. “When you’re talking about a relatively new line of business, there’s a lot to study and learn, there’s a lot to test, and there’s a marketplace shift happening at the same time,” he said. “So you can understand and act on things you previously didn’t know.” (The Times, for example, designed its paywall to be comparatively porous at first in an effort to collect as much data as possible.)

Doucette said that publishers are “now entering a second generation of digital models.” In the first generation, publishers were just trying to prove out the concept that consumers would pay up. With that accomplished, many are now focused on optimizing and building on that model. “We’ve learned a lot in five years about what the levers are, how we can pull them and what are the tradeoffs,” Doucette said. “We understand a lot of things better than we used to. The changes are the natural evolution of that understanding.”

Photo of a brick wall by Kingy used under a Creative Commons license.

How The Economist is using the UK election to drive subscriptions

In the last week, The Economist has grown its pool of prospective subscribers by 5,000 in the U.K. by offering free content.

As part of a wider campaign around the U.K.’s general election on June 8, the publisher is giving away a free copy of The Economist’s endorsement issue coming out on June 3. It’s running election-led messages on TV, radio, display and social about the offer. People can also request the issue online, via SMS and over the phone. This content is available online, too: Election-related display ads online and on social direct readers to a digital edition of the endorsement issue, which will be available June 1.

While some publishers have hurt themselves giving away content for free, The Economist is relatively generous in this respect, especially on social platforms, which it uses to sample content. “At the center of that is the realization from our own research that if you present content in front of people, they have a higher propensity to subscribe,” said Mark Cripps, evp of brand and digital marketing at The Economist. Last year, it ran a similar content-led campaign, in which topical ad copy that linked to content was targeted to people predisposed to want to read it.

Cripps wouldn’t share how many of the 5,000 prospective subscribers have handed over payment details, but he said campaigns that surface and target content to relevant readers have higher conversion rates in the U.K. than in the U.S. “Probably because of brand saliency,” he said, “it’s a harder sell in the U.S.”

Economist ads targeted to politically engaged audiences.

For an annual print and digital subscription, The Economist charges £179 ($230). It has sold a 12-week introductory offer, £12 ($15) for 12 issues (providing access to print, print and digital or just digital), for a number of years. This isn’t an arbitrary number — The Economist has said it typically takes nine weeks to turn a reader into a subscriber.

Non-subscribers can access one free article a week and then register their email address to access three free articles a week. The publisher has built up a non-subscriber list in the six figures, according to Cripps. Digital subscriptions stand at 345,500, while its overall subscription base is 1.5 million.

Some publishers, like the Financial Times and The Spectator, have seen subscriber numbers increase heading into the election. Publishers have also used the election as an opportunity to release editorial tools like Messenger bots to drive more direct connections with readers.

Reaching first-time voters and people who have just turned 18 is a priority for The Economist’s campaign as well. The Economist Intelligence Unit, the publisher’s research arm, released a study called the Democracy Index that suggests the popularity of democracy has declined in younger people over the years. Using third-party lists from companies like Experian, The Economist has collected email addresses of hundreds of thousands of 18-year-olds in the U.K. to target with emails linking to the digital edition of the endorsement issue.

“We’ve seen a resurgence in email open rates, as long as the targeting is correct and it’s a brand people trust and the subject line is perfect. Don’t dismiss email,” said Cripps, adding that The Economist has two email newsletters, plus Espresso, which is linked to its app. “The hypothesis is that people respond to email if it’s rightly targeted, but that demographic [of 18-year-olds] may not be using it as much as our core.”

The Economist will also offer the issue to this demographic through Snap ads via Snapchat Stories, on Instagram and on Facebook using tech platform Lytics, which will help the publisher match audiences with people who are consuming political content outside of Facebook.

The Economist will put money behind social posts.

Image: Courtesy of The Economist via Facebook

The post How The Economist is using the UK election to drive subscriptions appeared first on Digiday.

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