Press+ compared four newspaper websites using its digital subscription system, each with similar Web traffic and in similar communities, but very different output in daily stories. “Over time, the site with 82 daily stories sold 10 times as many subscriptions per month as the site with 50 stories a day and sold 15 times as many subscriptions as the newspaper with 20 stories a day.”
The conclusion: “If you want to sell journalism, you have to do journalism,” said Press+ co-founder Steven Brill in a news release.
Press+ co-founder Gordon Crovitz said in the release that the study shows that news sites can make money “regardless of the size of a community or the traffic on its site – as long as the content offering is strong.” But the study only looked at the quantity of stories, not the quality (though it made an effort to exclude wire copy).
So a short post like the one you’re reading now would count the same (Poynter is a Press+ user) as that deeply-reported New York Times story about how retail stores mine your shopping habits to figure out personal details.
The sites chosen “were essentially similar in that they covered the same mix of local news, business, sports, with national wires covering most national and international stories,” Brill said in an email relayed through his spokeswoman.
Brill said the company will start advising clients that publish fewer stories “that better, more intense coverage of their communities means more business, and, therefore, that digital subscriptions revenues can help them justify stronger newsrooms.”
But will publishers look at this finding and think, “We need better, more intense coverage of our communities”? Or “Get on the hamster wheel!”?
The differences in subscription revenue also could be related to how these sites trigger a subscription request. Individual Press+ clients choose how many stories a reader will view before getting a request to subscribe; they also choose when a second request will be made. Sites that publish more stories and set a lower threshold for requesting revenue will be asking people to subscribe more often, which may boost the money they collect.
Co-founder Gordon Crovitz cautioned in the release that “not everything, such as marketing messages, was the same and these data are only the beginning of the kind of monitoring we will now be engaging in.”
Press+ didn’t identify the sites, citing confidentiality of its clients’ data.
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RR DONNELLEY’S PRESS+ SALES DATA SHOW CONTENT COUNTS IN BOOSTING ONLINE SUBSCRIPTIONS
NEW YORK, July 11, 2012…In a first of its kind study of the correlation between intensity of news coverage on newspaper websites and the success of those sites in selling online subscriptions to visitors who hit the sites’ Press+ meter and are then asked to pay, Press+ co-founders Gordon Crovitz and Steven Brill today announced that the intensity of local coverage, as measured by the number of weekday unique stories, has “a direct and dramatic correlation with sales.”
Press+, a subsidiary of RR Donnelley, used sales data for four newspapers in mid-market communities (populations in the low six figures), each with approximately one million unique monthly visitors as measured by Quantcast. One newspaper site with an average of 82 stories posted to the site each day had first month subscription sales of approximately $36,000, while a site with similar traffic but only an average of 21 stories had first month sales of less than $400. A third, similarly-trafficked site with an average of 50 stories had first month sales of approximately $3,000. A fourth site, with an average of 55 stories had sales of slightly more than $3,000. Over time, the site with 82 daily stories sold 10 times as many subscriptions per month as the site with 50 stories a day and sold 15 times as many subscriptions as the newspaper with 20 stories a day.
“We picked these four sites because they presented roughly similar traffic and are in roughly similar communities and offered similar prices,” Crovitz explained. “But not everything, such as marketing messages, was the same,” he added, “and these data are only the beginning of the kind of monitoring we will now be engaging in. We have now launched paid models for more than 360 Affiliates, with hundreds more poised to launch this year. Thus, we expect to have much more data as we reach critical mass. These early data support our belief that meaningful sales can be achieved regardless of the size of a community or the traffic on its site – as long as the content offering is strong. But the converse is also true.”
“While this is all preliminary,” Brill added, “it does suggest a common sense, if sometimes-ignored, reality: If you want to sell journalism, you have to do journalism. So, in addition to working with our Affiliates to suggest best practices in terms of how to set the meter and what kinds of marketing messages and trial offers seem to be working best, we will also be working with those on the lower end of the content scale to encourage them that better, more intense coverage of their communities means more business, and, therefore, that digital subscriptions revenues can help them justify stronger newsrooms.”
The chart and table below depict the findings mentioned in this release. Press+ did not name the websites because it does not disclose confidential information related to specific Affiliates.