I have been reading a lot lately about newspaper businesses implementing pay walls at what seems like a rapid rate compared to just 12 months ago. So, what has changed? The number one driver of this new enthusiasm is because the New York Times was able to implement a “pay fence” to its primary website with an acceptably low decline in traffic, along with more than 450,000 paid subscribers. The increase in subscription revenue has more than offset any decline in ad revenues from the drop in page views.
Even though no other newspaper is anything like the NY Times, with its national footprint and millions of readers, others are following in what feels like a frenzied rush to judgment. The largest newspaper chain holding company, Gannett, announced all 80 of its daily newspapers (with exception of USA Today) would be behind a pay wall within 12 months. Lee Enterprises, owner of the St. Louis Post Dispatch as well as many small community newspapers, announced all of its dailies would be going behind a pay wall. Many others are heading in the same direction. So a little success in a big national newspaper is giving everyone confidence to move in this direction, forget the fact that the audience for digital content has been conditioned for “free” content (with ads of course).
Could there be something else driving this change in attitude? Maybe, there’s a lack of new ideas on how to grow digital faster. Could it be that mobile isn’t moving fast enough and current indications are that it could be at a lower CPM than desktop web? Is it that the sales organization is now smaller and has to focus on what still drives 85% of the revenues for these companies (print)? Maybe it’s because it’s a last ditch effort to stop the slide in revenues since the economy is coming back but hasn’t really helped the newspaper industry. Or, could it be all of these things.
Here are some things to think about if you are working in a media business, regardless of where you think the future will be.
- Are you selling advertising as if you are part of an agency? Do you offer much more than just display ads? Do you help an advertiser spend their precious $1,000 a month budget and not place 85% of it in print unless it really creates 85% of the interest?
- Do you offer your advertisers help in creating digital ads for web and mobile?
- What are you doing to help advertisers deal with social media?
- How are you helping advertisers be successful in search?
- Are you creating post campaign reports that your reps actually understand, and are able to review with advertisers to demonstrate the value of their advertising efforts?
- Are you selling the newest opportunity in digital (mobile) with the same sales organization that sells print, and who just recently started understanding how to sell digital ads for desktop? If so, why?
- What about tablets? They are sold differently than mobile. Do you know why?
- Are you creating content specific to the device, or is your content team putting the same content that is on the web onto mobile and tablet?
- What have you done to move beyond display ads for smart phones?
- Does your sales organization understand how to sell “share of voice?” This is the way selling advertising on tablets will be done.
If you can answer positively to these questions I wonder if a pay wall is really needed?
Spend some time thinking this through. We don’t want the newspaper business to be compared to Kodak.