Pas­sion can help sell subscriptions

Newspapers & Technology Magazine - - Contents - ▶ BY MARC WIL­SON COLUM­NIST p

It’s fun to write about suc­cess — and pas­sion. The news­pa­per in­dus­try is learn­ing how to bet­ter un­der­stand the pas­sions of read­ers to at­tract and re­tain sub­scribers. The New York Times re­port­edly now earns two-thirds of its rev­enue from subscriptions. Hearst is tar­get­ing hav­ing 30 per­cent of its rev­enue come from sub­scribers.

One of the more in­no­va­tive ef­forts to at­tract pay­ing sub­scribers is un­der way at the Omaha World-Her­ald, flag­ship daily of BH Me­dia Group. Omaha’s new pro­gram is called Sub­scriber Plus.

"Our com­pany has in­vested in tech­nol­ogy and taken other ac­tions to im­prove dig­i­tal sub­scribers’ user ex­pe­ri­ence," Pub­lisher Terry Kroeger said in a col­umn to read­ers when Sub­scriber Plus launched. "Dig­i­tal sub­scribers will en­joy faster load­ing web pages, fewer ad­ver­tise­ments and spe­cial of­fers. ... Dig­i­tal sub­scribers also will en­joy first ac­cess to all of The World-Her­ald’s con­tent, in­clud­ing a hand­ful of sto­ries and photo gal­leries des­ig­nated for sub­scribers only." Un­der­state­ment: Foot­ball is im­por­tant in Ne­braska.

The state is home of per­haps the most pas­sion­ate fans in the na­tion. Ne­braska has won five na­tional cham­pi­onships, and the pro­gram is one of only 10 teams with more than 800 vic­to­ries. Fans travel well. Red is the state’s most prom­i­nent color.

A shroud of sad­ness rolled over the state last fall from Omaha to Kim­ball, and from Chadron to Falls City when Ne­braska ended its sea­son with a 4-8 record, the worst per­for­mance in 56 years.

So when, in De­cem­ber, Ne­braska hired for­mer Husker na­tional cham­pion quar­ter­back Scott Frost as head coach, in­ter­est was huge in Husker Na­tion. A sav­ior had been found.

The World-Her­ald’s news staff jumped all over the story. And once Omaha’s read­ers were in­formed that they had to pay to read more – they of­fered up their credit cards.

The World-Her­ald dou­bled down on the pro­gram in early Fe­bru­ary as Na­tional Sign­ing Day ap­proached. Fans who wanted to know the full story of each re­cruit signed — or lost — by the Corn­huskers, had to es­tab­lish a busi­ness re­la­tion­ship with Omaha.com.

Un­der the Sub­scriber Plus pro­gram, the World-Her­ald of­fers a first-month rate of 99 cents that con­verts to $9.95 a month on an au­tore­new­ing ba­sis. Omaha is sign­ing up new dig­i­tal sub­scribers at three to four times the rate in 2017. And in the early go­ing, re­ten­tion has been good.

Marc Wil­son's 'Kid­napped by Colum­bus' pub­lished

Marc Wil­son of TownNews.com has pub­lished his sec­ond book, "Kid­napped by Colum­bus."

The book, pub­lished by Flor­i­canto Press, is an his­tor­i­cal fic­tion ac­count of six Na­tive Amer­i­cans taken to Spain by Christo­pher Colum­bus after his

Omaha’s news­room is learn­ing by study­ing data about reader in­ter­ests and pas­sions, and it’s look­ing for story ideas that will en­hance the pro­gram.

The World-Her­ald soon will be­gin us­ing data to bet­ter un­der­stand pre­cisely where its new dig­i­tal sub­scribers are com­ing from — con­tent, e-mail pro­mo­tions or sim­ply from hit­ting the sub­scribe but­ton.

Omaha con­tin­ues to grow over­all site traf­fic de­spite the fact that se­lect sto­ries are now avail­able only to pay­ing sub­scribers.

Sub­scribers have a much bet­ter read­ing ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause the num­ber of ads and third-party wid­gets have been greatly re­duced for sub­scribers. Pages now load in 1.5 to 2 sec­onds for sub­scribers.

An­other ben­e­fit for sub­scribers — they’re the only ones al­lowed to com­ment on sto­ries on Omaha’s web­site. That move has re­duced much of the venom that used to oc­cur in the com­ments sec­tion.

In his col­umn, Kroeger ex­plained to read­ers the need to col­lect sub­scrip­tion rev­enue: "For most of our his­tory, the cost of real, fact­based jour­nal­ism has been paid pri­mar­ily by area re­tail­ers and other busi­nesses who want to share in­for­ma­tion about their prod­ucts and ser­vices with a large, broadly based and well-in­formed public.

"But dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy has squeezed the part­ner­ship be­tween news or­ga­ni­za­tions and ad­ver­tis­ers. Lo­cally owned busi­nesses, from re­tail shops to car deal­ers to gro­cery stores, face un­prece­dented chal­lenges from on­line shop­ping. In­creas­ingly, lo­cal busi­nesses face fierce com­pe­ti­tion from na­tional chains and In­ter­net-based giants such as Ama­zon.

"In this en­vi­ron­ment, our abil­ity to pro­duce great jour­nal­ism hinges in­creas­ingly on subscriptions, on the de­ci­sions of tens of thou­sands of in­di­vid­u­als who un­der­stand and ap­pre­ci­ate The WorldHer­ald’s value."

Omaha’s ef­forts are sim­i­lar to what pa­pers around the world are adopt­ing. Earl Wilkin­son, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the In­ter­na­tional News­pa­per As­so­ci­a­tion (INMA), says the les­sons of un­der­stand­ing the pas­sions of read­ers are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly clear.

"Me­dia com­pa­nies can­not suc­ceed with dig­i­tal subscriptions with­out be­ing data-driven," Wilkin­son said at a re­cent INMA con­fer­ence. "This is re­ally Mar­ket­ing 101. Prod­uct, price, place and pro­mo­tion."

"The big ques­tion to come out of all this: If 10 per­cent of your con­tent drives 90 per­cent of your traf­fic, then how do you pri­or­i­tize more of that 10 per­cent?"

Us­ing data to iden­tify pas­sions is the key.

Marc Wil­son is ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of TownNews.com. He can be reached at mar­cus@ townnews.com. He just pub­lished his sec­ond book, "Kid­napped by Colum­bus."

“dis­cov­ery” of the New World.

The nar­ra­tor is a 14-year-old Na­tive Amer­i­can who se­cretly learns Span­ish and en­coun­ters some of the key char­ac­ters in his­tory, in­clud­ing Colum­bus, Queen Is­abella, King Fer­di­nand, Grand In­quisi­tor To­mas Torque­mada, Cather­ine of Aragon and the ill-fated Prince Juan. He's also present when Pope Bor­gia's pa­pal bulls, which give al­most one-third of the world to Spain, are un­veiled.

Wil­son's ear­lier book, "Hero Street U.S.A.," pub­lished by the Univer­sity of Ok­la­homa Press, won a first place in the 2010 In­ter­na­tional Latino Book Awards.

Both books are avail­able on Ama­zon and through lo­cal book stores.

Wil­son is a long-time colum­nist for News and Tech mag­a­zine. He's a founder of TownNews.com.

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