Strib metered pay wall: Web traffic down 10-15 percent, revenue up

“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.

Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 12/06/2011 - 12:33 pm.

    Three words: Browser stop button. Beats a subscription.

  2. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 12/06/2011 - 12:42 pm.

    I’m sure I’m a bad example (and not just in this regard), but I don’t need the Strib. The PiPress is still free (funny how ad-based models are now “free”) and what they miss MinnPost usually covers, in The Glean if nowhere else.

    I don’t need to read Katherine Kersten. I don’t need to read wire stories I can find elsewhere for free. I don’t need to pay for WaPost content that’s still free at the Washington Post. Etc.

    Just last week I “discovered” that the News feed offered by Calibre (a freeware text conversion utility) allows me to download any of 350 different news sources for my Kindle. Yes, the NYTimes requires a subscription user name and password, but their Book Review and Technology feeds are still free. The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and other newspapers are entirely free and come without ads and that’s just one of countless digital options now available.

    Others are now saying (Clay Shirky?) that online readers get their news serendipitously, taking it in as they stumble across it without actively seeking out “the news.” Given the extraordinary extent to which our major media now slavishly follow establishment talking points, who can say this is a bad approach to getting the news?

    Give it a few more years and I predict only wonks and seniors will pay for news. The Strib has been clever, but no amount of cleverness will survive the competition that comes from free news content. So long as others are clever enough to make $$ from free, the Strib’s paid digital subscription model is fatally flawed.

  3. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 12/06/2011 - 01:30 pm.

    Mark, also check out the Strib Calibre “recipe” for your Kindle (it’s not in the news listings in Calibre) — http://oldbugs.calibre-ebook.com/attachment/wiki/UserRecipes/StarTribune.py but not sure if it works since the introduction of the paywall.

  4. Submitted by Stephen Judge on 12/06/2011 - 03:19 pm.

    I think we will see more and more paywalls. They obviously work, when everyone hollared that they would not. People pay for free things all the time, when it is to their specific liking. Look at bottled water. We scoff at it and guzzle it to the tune of billions per year. Taste tests have even shown that NYC tap water tastes better than many bottled waters… Still.
    There has always been free news as well in the form of weeklies. Even if it is only 5% percent of the population who will pay for the percieved convenience of a paper, that is more than enough. This is to say nothing of the fact that most all wire service reports come from content created by newspapers and licensed to UPI, AP etc. I would not assume that this newspaper-generated wire content will always be free as it is now.
    Free is great, free is wonderful. MinnPost is good and even Patch has put out some stuff i have been impressed with. But just like bottled water, non-free has a future too.

  5. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 12/06/2011 - 03:24 pm.

    Matt, I tried your trick but it just gave me a list of Strib links. Maybe they closed this loophole right after you posted but really, I’m not missing the Strib. The fifteen free articles a month is more than enough to satisfy my need for their particular brand of “local” content.

    But thanks for waking me up to the fact that I can customize my Calibre News feeds. I think my RSS feeds are all about to migrate over to Calibre….

  6. Submitted by Hal Davis on 12/06/2011 - 06:20 pm.

    Mark Giselson (#2):
    Others are now saying (Clay Shirky?) that online readers get their news serendipitously, taking it in as they stumble across it without actively seeking out “the news.”

    Serendipity is one of the joys of newspaper reading. You never know what will be on the next page, if it’s a good newspaper. It can also be experienced, I say with mixed emotions, when a Facebook friend or a Tweeter shares a link I’d have otherwise missed.

    But I hope newspaper-produced content stays part of the mix.

  7. Submitted by Bob Collins on 12/06/2011 - 09:04 pm.

    My guess is most people just need a front page of a news site. Anything going on? No? Move along.

    A fully stocked RSS reader will reveal the big stories of the day, and you get 25 articles free, which means there’s no real payoff here until article 26. Do local news sites break 26 “can’t live without clicking on it” stories, especially when the link from Twitter or Facebook is a freebie?

  8. Submitted by Stephen Judge on 12/06/2011 - 09:05 pm.

    Hal Davis, you are right. That is the thing that is the best about newspapers. I rarely get same thing from Facebook. All my pals are pretty liberal, like me. I generally get sent the same stuff, or stuff in the same vein.
    The newspaper forces me to read things i otherwise wouldnt. I think i am better for it.

  9. Submitted by Stan Daniels on 12/06/2011 - 09:38 pm.

    One other question for the Strib. How many of the new digital subs were former paper subs? I am one of them, dropped the paper which never showed upon time and went to the iPad and website.

    Why do I still pay? I want to support local journalism and appreciate the writers/bloggers. Couldn’t live without Russo on hockey.

  10. Submitted by Kevin Reichard on 12/07/2011 - 08:53 am.

    So the Strib successfully transitions to a pretty weak paywall, is on pace to generate a million a year from it (with only a loss of under $99,000 in crap, .02/cpm network ad revenue), and you “experts” are still predicting doom? Paid content is the wave of the future, whether it’s on paper or on an iPsd — and everyone who writes for a living should be happy about it.

  11. Submitted by Erica Mauter on 12/07/2011 - 03:07 pm.

    Remind me again when the redesign happened in relation to the paywall. Wondering if the fact that it’s way easier to look at influences the page views at all.

  12. Submitted by Sidney Jablonski on 12/21/2011 - 10:42 am.

    I wonder how long the free news environment can survive. After all it costs money to report the news. It would be the same if auto dealers gave away free cars– who would want to pay? But sooner or later they would all go out of business. Same way with news. As for the Strib, my experience with them is that they were among the best papers for knowing how to make money (when owned by the Cowles family anyway). If any organization can figure how to make money on the web they are as good as anyone.

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