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Hype is a weaponized form of optimism
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Nov. 5, 2015, 1:27 p.m.
Business Models
LINK: www.capitalnewyork.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Shan Wang   |   November 5, 2015

Newspapers across the country are still tinkering to find the right digital paywall model. Today, Tribune Publishing — embattled owner of the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, and several other regional papers — announced that it would be moving all its titles to a metered model starting next year.

Tribune digital chief Denise Warren announced the change in an earnings call Thursday morning. Politico reports:

Warren has been with Tribune for several months, leading its digital efforts after serving as head of digital at The New York Times. She was instrumental in the development of a metered pay model at the Times, which has brought more than a million digital subscribers to that publication.

Tribune has been struggling with its own digital subscriber growth. But the company said it made some progress in the latest quarter, bringing its total number of digital-only subscribers to 81,000, up 37 percent year over year.

Warren said research has shown readers are more likely to subscribe digitally with a metered model versus a premium model. She said the company also is working on other initiatives to grow its digital subscriber base.

Tribune papers previously had a mix of free and behind-the-premium-paywall content on their sites, with the free content gaining the expected boost in reach.

The effectiveness of a metered paywall in converting visitors to actual subscribers varies from publisher to publisher, but there are some data points out there. One analysis from last fall, for instance, estimates that, over a two-year span, roughly 2.5 percent of a newspaper site’s total unique visitors will hit the metered paywall and then pay for an actual subscription.

Tribune’s properties aren’t the only ones to have made the shift from a hard paywall model to the gentler metered approach. Last year, The Boston Globe — which had split its web presence into a newspaper-y, mostly hard-paywalled BostonGlobe.com and a webbier, free Boston.com — switched BostonGlobe.com to a meter. This summer, Cox moved its paid newspaper sites to the metered approach, citing efforts to align its social strategy and its push to get more print subscribers to also engage with the papers digitally.

The paywall is a tricky thing to wrangle. Some newspapers have moved from a metered model to a hard paywall — the Winnipeg Free Press, for instance, is testing out a hard paywall with a micropayments strategy. More recently, The Sun announced it would be dropping its paywall at the end of the month, citing, among other reasons, how expensive it was to acquire new subscribers.

Tribune’s titles would be in good company, in metered paywall land. Whether the move will help boost digital growth and ease some of its financial troubles — we’ll find out next year.

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