As the free Web version of a $190 year print newspaper for legal and business professionals in Maryland, The Daily Record Online was attracting 20,000 visitors per weekday.
Luckily the site did not appear to be cannibalizing print subscriptions - there was not a drop in offline sales. But it also was not contributing enough additional revenues to justify its existence. So, late last year publishers Dolan Media decided to switch from free to paid.
How? The site had no email newsletter to promote with, nor was it set up to do email marketing blasts.
First the team placed notices on the website (and in the print publication) in December 2001. Those notices pulled in just six buyers (at $39/year). "Most people won't pay until they have to," says Jeff Raymond, Managing Editor of Daily Record Online.
Next, the site went cold turkey; putting a firm subscribers-only barrier in front of almost all content. As of Thursday January 3rd, site visitors found they could no longer access much more than headlines and classified ads.
Clicking on a headline leads to a screen with two links: One saying "Subscribers," and the other saying "Purchase a Subscription." Underneath is the following copy:
Annual Web subscriptions are $39. If you also subscribe to the print version of The Daily Record, we will send you a coupon for $39 off the price of your next annual newspaper renewal.
This clever pricing strategy allows The Daily Record to deflect some initial subscriber complaints about having to pay twice for the same information - while still training visitors to pay.
Plus, by deferring the rebate coupon, management has given itself flexibility. Prices could rise before the coupons are used. The rebate could be later cut or discontinued. The company has more options.
Switching to paid content cut Daily Record's average weekday visitors by almost 50%, from 20,000 to 11,000. This was a happy surprise because the management team had expected to lose a lot more traffic than that. Raymond says, "Our non-paid visitors appear to be using us as a headline service."
Subscriptions? In just over three months, they've collected "hundreds" of subscribers. And there is an interesting pattern to it: 42% of their current subs signed up in January, 22% in February, and 20% in March.
Raymond notes, "It's hard to know how to judge the numbers. But as long as our subscribers keep growing, that's success to me."
Interestingly those home page headlines alone definitely drive sales. Raymond has seen people subscribe for the year - just because they want to read the rest of a single article. "Articles on the All First scandal even brought us two paid subs from Ireland!" http://www.mddailyrecord.com
BTW: Have other Websites found these numbers in their own conversions - getting roughly half the subscribers in subsequent months as they did in the first month? If you have done your own free-to-paid conversion, email us as to whether you saw this same pattern and we will share the results in a later issue -- firstname.lastname@example.org
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