October 14, 2014

This spring, the Washington Post launched a program that let subscribers to partner newspapers access its paywalled content. 165 have signed up so far.

New research the Post’s research and analytics team conducted (you can read it below) suggests the partnerships have benefited both parties: Almost two thirds of subscribers of partner newspapers “report that they are much more or more likely to continue their print subscription for the next six months because free access to The Washington Post website and apps is a benefit of their subscription,” one slide says.

About 1,300 subscribers to the partner papers who had activated their free subscriptions completed the survey this past summer. The Post invited these readers at random, across all the partner papers.

“We had a belief it would do this but you never know till you get the research back,” Post President and General Manager Stephen Hills said in a phone call.

People who work at some of the Post’s partner papers back up the findings: “Out of the gate, the Washington Post program has been an unqualified success, with really remarkable uptake from subscribers on very little promotion,” Steve Yaeger, the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune’s vice president for marketing and PR, told Poynter.

Tom Zeller, The (Toledo, Ohio) Blade’s audience development manager, said his paper had a “pretty aggressive home delivery price increase this year,” Zeller said, “and we looked at this as something to add value.”

Since the program kicked off, he said, “our price-related stops have been a little bit lower.” The Blade has seen a lot of conversions, and it has also used the program to promote its own digital efforts, he said.

The survey asked respondents what topics they found interesting: 71 percent said national news (excluding politics), 67 percent said international news and 64 percent said national politics. All are subject areas in which many regional newspapers have made cutbacks in recent years. “That’s why the pitch that I made when presenting this to people in the business was that they are providing local content that consumers can’t get elsewhere,” Hills said. “Our national reporting is a natural complement to what their papers are doing.”

“I feel for a regional paper, The Blade has pretty strong national and international coverage,” Zeller said. “It’s not like we have a hole there,” he said, but the program “augmented it by adding very high quality journalism.”

The relationship is unlubricated by cash: “No money changes hands,” Hills said. “What we’re doing it for is to get the promotion and increase the national exposure of The Washington Post.”

It also helps the Post in its ambitions to be a more national outlet. “I think at the macro level it helps as we become more known for this, and as we expand our national footprint,” Hills said. And the program “has opened the possibility of talking about lots of different ways we could partner” with other outlets, he said.

Washington Post Digital Partner Program research

Related: The Newsonomics of the Washington Post and New York Times Network Wars (Newsonomics)

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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City…
Andrew Beaujon

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