“It doesn’t feel like 2009 anymore,” one Stribber tweeted Monday, after AdWeek named the Star Tribune the “hottest” regional newspaper in its “Hot List” feature.
Listicles have given me hives ever since a managing editor I hated gave his barber a “Best Of” in the old Twin Cities Reader. Some categories just aren’t exhaustively surveyed, and AdWeek is probably following Editor & Publisher, which named the Strib’s Michael Klingensmith its “Publisher of the Year.” That, in turn, was based on reporting by a certain local media critic, which (I hope) was based on the paper’s actual accomplishments.
So as a guy who chronicled the miseries of the Bankruptcy Era, I say the troops have earned a celebration. Among its reasons, AdWeek cited thousands of new digital subscribers in the wake of the Strib’s new metered pay wall.
Legitimate Up-with-People stuff, but not necessarily the whole story. How big a hit did web traffic take? What happened to the bottom line?
With the caution that these are self-reported numbers (but also that previous figures have held up well), Klingensmith says November page views fell 15 percent from pre-meter October, while visits and unique visitors were off 10 percent.
Klingensmith expects the falloff to moderate as more people buy digital subscriptions, and print subscribers jump through authentication hoops to get full digital content for free.
He acknowledges the traffic drop has cost money. “The bottom line is that projected annual ad revenue decline from traffic losses will have 5 figures” — so, between $10,000 and $99,999 a year.
But that’s just the loss side of the equation. Klingensmith adds that the Strib has 5,900 “completely new all-digital access subscriptions” at $2 a week, 1,150 of whom added Sunday print. In addition, 2,100 Sunday print subscribers added digital access, for which they pay a buck a week after an introductory period.
Klingensmith says his rough rule of thumb is that digital orders are worth $100 per year each. So in four weeks, the Strib has potentially reaped about $800,000 in new digital circulation revenue. Although the subscriber pace should subside, the count should grind over $1 million as some current newsaholic refusniks get tired of banging their heads on the pay wall (and tweeting about it!) and simply fork over the cost of a double mocha latte or two a month.
I’m still trying to figure out where the newsaholic refusniks went; didn’t hear back immediately from the Pioneer Press and MPR, but I can tell you MinnPost and KSTP’s web traffic was more or less flat. I’ll update this item when/if I get more stats.
In and of itself, the Strib meter is not a life-changer. Netting a million is nice, but the Strib’s post-bankruptcy circulation revenue was projected in the $40 million-plus range during Chapter 11.
Still, the meter works if it helps props up profitable print in the short term and offsets some advertising losses. Long-term, there’s still reason to believe this will help create a durable digitial subscriber base that advertisers eventually pay more for. That should keep journalists celebrating.