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June 5, 2023, 10:37 a.m.
LINK: www.thebaltimorebanner.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Sarah Scire   |   June 5, 2023

When the buzzy philanthropist-backed nonprofit newsroom Baltimore Banner launched last summer, executives set the ambitious goal of 100,000 subscribers by 2025. Almost exactly one year later, they’re reporting they’re already well on their way.

As outgoing CEO Imtiaz Patel announced his departure last week, he told a Banner reporter the news organization had “more than 70,000 subscribers with paid access.” (His next destination — a leadership position at newspaper chain Gannett — raised a few eyebrows, including some within the nonprofit newsroom itself.) The Banner has grown to include 100 employees, including about 65 in its newsroom.

More than 70,000 paid subscribers is an impressive number for any local outlet — especially a new newsroom that hasn’t been publishing for a full year yet. For comparison: The Banner’s crosstown rival, the 186-year-old Baltimore Sun, reported reaching 80,000 digital subscribers in 2022.

But I was hung up on the “subscribers with paid access” phrasing. How was that different than “paid subscribers”? Did that number count, for example, group subscriptions to local universities or free access provided by the Banner?

“None of these are free subscribers,” Patel said in an email, adding that the subscriber numbers are based on rules set by the Alliance for Audited Media. (AAM counts digital-only subscriptions based on payment, for example, rather than accounts who have accessed the site.) A free community access program I asked about is “a separate initiative and not included in our numbers,” Patel said.

Unlike many nonprofit newsrooms, The Baltimore Banner has a metered paywall. The local news org has dropped the gates on a handful of occasions, including for the opening day of the Baltimore Orioles in April, but readers who have exceeded their monthly limit are asked to open their wallets in order to read more. Those who run into the paywall are offered a promotional rate: six months of access for $1 dollar.

A full-price subscription costs $20 every four weeks or $260 per year. Patel declined to share average circulation revenue per subscriber and said the “more than 70,000” figure included subscribers paying the $1 promo rate.

“It’s all about ARPU at the end,” Patel said. Though they’ve technically reached 70% of their subscriber goal, he said, “I would say we are about a third of our way to our target.”

Frankly, though, the Banner’s subscriber numbers are impressive even if a good portion are paying just $1 right now. (Patel said those who started out at a promotional rate are converting to full-price subscriptions at a rate better than the Banner planned for, but was not more specific.) We just don’t know exactly how impressive without knowing more about how many are paying a reduced rate. It’s a promising start for the news organization that’s already been promised $50 million over the first four years from founder Stewart W. Bainum Jr.

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