The Subscription Project – An Update

Back in February, I wrote about the various paid digital subscription projects underway at Digital First Media.

Some of our newspapers had what has become known as a traditional paywall.

Others, experimented with finding other forms of “payment” such as asking users to fill out online Google Consumer Surveys as a way of continuing to use the site.

Most of our newspapers – 75 dailies in total – had unfettered access to their online sites.

The transformational journey from print to digital is a long one. And it is all uphill.

It’s a journey made all the more difficult when you carry the extra tonnage of newspaper companies whose cost structures were more than a century in the making and now need to be radically rebuilt – by yesterday.

Print dollars are becoming digital dimes. But costs are still in dollars and, like most newspaper companies, we are radically reducing those costs.

The future for most news media companies lies in selling a variety of multi-platform products and services to advertisers and marketers.

Marketing dollars in all forms are moving into digital. With a foot in both the past and future, companies like Digital First Media have to manage the decline of one medium while building for – and in some cases, waiting for – the new revenue streams to grow.

At DFM, the team has excelled at stacking digital dimes. From 2012 (our last full year) vs. 2009, digital advertising has grown more than 89 percent. Our comparators don’t come close.

Our digital advertising products – such as AdTaxi – are now used not just by us but by media companies around the world. And, through Digital First Ventures, we are partnering with some of the most innovative digital people in the world.

But we need more gas in the tank if we are going to complete this journey of print-to-digital transformation.

Back in February, I said I’d report back on subscription revenue.

Our experiment with Google Consumer Surveys, while initially a success, gradually fell off in its effectiveness and reduced our online traffic growth wherever the surveys were in place.

Our newspapers, which had basic, traditional paywalls, while initially reducing online traffic which slowly grew back, failed to generate any kind of significant revenue.

After a lot research by our team, we believe an All-Access print-digital subscription initiative is necessary to buy us that proverbial gas in the tank.
With the rise of digital and the fall of print, we’re at the point where we can launch a working All-Access subscription model.

Let’s be clear, paid digital subscriptions are not a long-term strategy. They don’t transform anything; they tweak. At best, they are a short-term tactic. I have said that often enough in the past.

But it’s a tactic that will help us now.

We will expand the meters from the approximately 23 MediaNews Group dailies that already had them when Digital First Media took over operating control of MNG two years ago to an All-Access program for all 75 dailies run by DFM.

We are also going to be offering more to the consumer.

While each market will be different, all of our dailies have just completed an upgrade to their websites. Earlier, we rolled out new and improved apps for tablets and smartphones.

There will also be changes in our products. Again, those offering will be different by market.

For example, in our Bay Area News Group new consumer-focused content offerings will include Sunday’s Eat. Drink. Play. section along with Real Estate Plus and Drive.

Just as before, we will report back on how all of this turns out.

In the past few years, if there is anything I have learned there is no single solution to the print-digital transformation.

You clearly have to be focused on digital, put digital first and heavily invest in your digital future – products, people, tools and training.

An All-Access subscription strategy is another of the many tactics needed on this necessary journey of transformation.

And, to be sure, we are going to do whatever it takes to make that transformation happen.

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