Newspaper participants in the Google News Initiative Subscriptions Lab reported some progress Monday in increasing digital subscribers — but their most important findings may be that they need to change how they approach digital, from their mindset to their handling of data.
PJ Browning, whose newspaper is one of 10 participants in the Lab, said the experiment has made The Post and Courier staff realize that they didn’t really have a “digital mindset” and while they were “swimming in data points” they were unable to wield data for better performance.
“We were measuring things that ultimately did not move the needle,” said Browning, the president of the Newspaper Division at Evening Post Publishing in Charleston, South Carolina, and publisher of The Post and Courier.
During the Lab, The Post and Courier began focusing on metrics that do make a difference, such as the user experience signing up as a subscriber, performance of newsletters and marketing effectiveness.
The newspaper is making progress in several areas, including ARPU (average rate per user). That rate has increased from $7.77 per month’s subscription before the experiment to $10.31 in July, though it is short of a goal of $20.
Similarly, The Baltimore Sun recognized it was not focusing on important metrics. Among its experiments is a “rolling meter” that users cannot game in the way they can a calendar meter. By putting a newsletter offer in front of those users the percentage submitting emails has increased to 40%.
Summed up Ken Harding, senior managing director at one of the Lab’s sponsors, FTI Consulting: “There are few publishers who are digital ready.”