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Dec. 8, 2020, 1:11 p.m.
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LINK: scroll.blog  ➚   |   Posted by: Sarah Scire   |   December 8, 2020

A little less than a year after launch, Scroll is partnering with McClatchy to experiment with bundling subscriptions to its ad-free network.

Eight McClatchy publications — The Sacramento Bee, The Kansas City Star, The News & Observer, The State, Idaho Statesman, The Wichita Eagle, The Bellingham Herald, Lexington Herald-Leader — will offer an ad-free version of their site to Scroll subscribers. New and active subscribers to these sites can opt in to a discounted Scroll membership. If McClatchy likes what they see with Scroll-using subscribers, the partnership will expand.

“What happens when we make the best possible experience on our own site? What does that do for churn? What does this do for engagement? Will people stay longer and read more?” CEO Tony Haile said. “Those are some of the things that McClatchy is interested in with this partnership.”

How does Scroll work, again? In a nutshell, users pay $5/month for the privilege of an ad-free reading experience on hundreds of news sites. Without ads, pages load faster and there are fewer anonymous trackers. The sites also look nicer — clean and less cluttered.

Scroll then distributes 70 percent of the $5 subscription cost to individual publishers, depending on where users spend the most time. In a post announcing the new partnerships, Haile put the six month paid retention rate at 85 percent and writes that publishers are receiving two to three times more revenue per user with Scroll than they’d receive from advertising. (Scroll declined to give Nieman Lab exact figures.)

Haile originally envisioned Scroll as primarily for casual readers. For publishers, it would be an easy way to receive support from people who enjoy the site but aren’t visiting enough to commit to a membership. About a year after launch — after the introduction of The Matchup and Scroll’s own success with a Business Insider bundle — the team at Scroll started to see additional opportunities. In his post, Haile wrote:

What really excites me is what moves like this do to counteract the zero-sum game that publishers find themselves in. Now, with Scroll, a subscriber to Business Insider can also support the work of journalists at The Verge or USA Today. Each time a publisher adds a new subscriber in this model, they’re not only delivering more value but making journalism at large a little more sustainable, just as they benefit when other publishers do the same. Less zero sum, more rising tide.

So the hope is that McClatchy subscribers will see Scroll’s ad-free reading experience — not just on their local site, but at BuzzFeed, Vox, The Atlantic, and more — as part of the core value that their McClatchy subscription brings. Haile identified one critical point in the publisher-subscriber dynamic where he hopes Scroll can help:

“My dream is that when a publisher is moving you out of the discount period of your subscription, they feel it’s safe to tell you about it,” Haile said. “When a publisher can say, ‘Here’s all the great stuff you’ve got. Now it’s going to be this price.’ When they feel safe to do that without churn exploding, that’s where we’ve gotten to a level of value that we can all be proud of.”

Looking ahead, Scroll hopes to increase the pace of adding new sites and use the McClatchy experiment to show publishers the results of bundling Scroll into their subscriptions.

Haile has witnessed publishers dealing with furloughs and a lack of resources as well as leadership and product teams overwhelmed by the year’s unrelenting news cycle first hand. “There were people who told us, ‘We can’t think about next year, because we don’t know if we’re going to be around in three months.’ Everyone’s timelines got really short,” Haile said. Too often, he saw half the people trying to do twice the amount of work.

But he sees light at the end of the tunnel. “As we start to see a future beyond this pandemic, as we see a new administration coming in, and the future feels more possible for people, you’ve got a pathway to accelerate the pace again.”

A previous version of this story stated that McClatchy subscribers get a free Scroll subscription. That is incorrect.

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