Local readers support local news!
Every day thousands of local news organizations work hard to keep their communities informed, yet funding their operations with advertising alone remains a challenge. Using the Piano platform, many local news sites are now enabling their audiences to financially support them.
Local paid content models
All of the local newspapers included in this case study used Piano to implement a “metered” paywall, which enables publishers to specify a number of free articles over a certain period of time prior to asking readers for payment.
– All of the sites offered monthly subscriptions ranging in price from $4 to $10.
– A majority of sites offered yearly subscriptions ranging in price from $25 to $35.
– A few sites offered one-day access to their entire site for as little as $0.10 to $1.99.
Local papers using Piano grew their revenue from paid content by 21.8% on average over the first nine months of the year. We attribute this growth to publishers limiting the number of free articles offered, as well as the continued success of higher-priced, yearly subscription sales.
Key success factors
The most successful sites, defined by the highest conversion rates at industry-standard price points, share some key characteristics. By making a few of these adjustments to their sites, local newspaper publishers can have an immediate and direct effect on their paid revenue efforts:
1) Tighter meters
Often, local news sites initially set unnecessarily high counts on their meter. That is, they give away too many free articles before asking their readers to pay. Best practices dictate that a site should evaluate a visitor’s average page views to calculate the appropriate number of previews. Sites that set their meter at single digit free articles, e.g. 5 free articles over 30 days, typically experience conversion rates that average 50% higher than sites giving away ten or more articles each month.
2) Yearly subscription purchases
The number of offers, such as offering day passes, monthly subscriptions, and yearly subscriptions, has a direct, positive impact on conversion rates. For example, a site might offer $1 for a day, $5 dollars per month, or $50 dollars per year for access to premium articles. Some papers try to pinpoint one price for their target audience. However a wide selection of varying price points and time periods appeals to readers.
In the case for local news sites, die hard fans willingly pay for yearly recurring subscriptions over $100. This not only helps pad successful paywall launch, it ensures that you’ll have some solid numbers that recur on your one year paywall anniversary!
3) A personal and transparent call to action
Users value content and care about the site they’re supporting, so they want to know that their money will sustain the site’s continued health. Sites where the solicitations to subscribe come from the primary voice (i.e., the paper’s publisher and/or editor in chief) outperform more generic solicitations. Moreover, users who are presented with frequent communications from that primary voice are less likely to cancel their recurring subscriptions.
The Newspaper of Record for East Hampton New York, The Star has published continuously since 1885 and remains family-owned. The paper is perhaps best known for its expansive letters to the editor policy which publishes nearly every letter it receives, thus making The Star one of the only newspapers in the nation to do so. Online access to their site is on a “metered” basis in which readers who visit more than eight times a month are asked to subscribe for $25 a year (or $4 for a month) to continue. Those who read fewer than eight stories a month do not have to pay for access.
Based in Barnesdall, Oklahoma The Bigheart Times covers Osage County, home to the Osage Nation and surrounding rural communities. Louise Red Corn, a former reporter for the Detroit Free Press, the Lexington Herald-Leader, and other dailies, is the owner and publisher of the paper. They use Piano to sell individual articles or e-editions of stories for 50 cents, and online subscriptions for $10/month.
We believe that small, community-focused sites will continue to follow the lead of larger online publishers in seeking support directly from their readers. The emergence of Piano levels the playing field and enables organizations with limited resources to offer the same sorts of sophisticated site and payment experience as those of The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Local coverage matters and we believe that readers will continue to open their wallets in meaningful numbers, in the process, helping ensure the continued operation of thousands of news.