Newspaper executives talk about their experience with digital subscriptions
Executives of newspaper industries shared their lessons and struggles about the past three years of digital subscriptions and how they’ve dealt with certain issues
By Rick Cookson
Left to right: Matt Lindsay, Mather Economics; Ray Pearce, vice president of consumer marketing at The New York Times; Rob Mitchell, Rutland Herald; Jeff Hartley, vice president of consumer revenue at Morris Communications; Adam Symson, senior vice president and chief digital officer at E.W. Scripps; and Sandy MacLeod, vice president of consumer marketing and strategy at Toronto Star. (Photo by Daniel Petty/for NAA)
The top executives of print industries such as The New York Times and the Toronto Star described their experience with online subscriptions in Tuesday’s NAA mediaXchange session, “Digital Subscriptions Three Years In: Lessons Learned and Best Practices.”
The session, moderated by Matt Lindsay, president of Mather Economics, covered the different ways in which these companies dealt with pricing options, growth projections and other aspects of digital subscriptions in the past three years.
“We do a pretty good job with the meter [subscription model], but we need to get better at it,” said Jeff Hartley, vice president of consumer revenue at Morris Publishing Group. “What [getting digital subscriptions] really boils down to is the value propositions of the customer and that goes back to the content”
Hartley was joined by four other executives — Sandy Macleod, vice president of consumer marketing and strategy at the Toronto Star; Adam Symson, senior vice president and chief digital officer at The E.W. Scripps Company; Rob Mitchell, editor of the Rutland Herald; and Ray Pearce, vice president of consumer marketing at The New York Times.
“We started with the meter several years ago and since then we’ve certainly learned a lot from that,” said Hartley. “We started high, we lowered those meters, we’ve experimented with different content in front of the meter, behind the meter — a lot of knowledge has been gained in the past three years.”
According to last year’s State of the News Media report from the Pew Research Center, there are 450 U.S. newspapers establishing some sort of digital subscription, the model in which each business utilizes tends to be different.
“The meter model still works well for us,” Pearce said of the New York Times’ subscription model. “When we launched it, our research was based on not just finding the optimal digital subscription model, but finding a model for our business that balances across all platforms.”
According to Macleod, figuring out the subscription model is a key component in creating online viewerships and online revenue. In the beginning of the Toronto Star’s digital newspaper, they issued what is called a sunset window.
“The reader gets six months to sign-up online and subscribe,” Macleod said. “After that six-month window, we start charging four dollars and ninety-nine cents for the digital subscriptions.”
Macleod said, echoing the other executives on stage, that digital subscriptions are constantly changing and that it’s likely to be completely different at the next NAA mediaXchange.
“This is definitely a journey and I’m excited to see what this panel will turn into two or three years from now,” Macleod said.
Rick Cookson is a journalism student at Colorado State University. Find him on Twitter at @RickCookson1.
First Published: March 24, 2014