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Digital First Media plans transition to paid digital content

The incredible rise of the digital subscripiton meter model by U.S. newspaper publishers got a further boost earlier this week when Digital First Media CEO John Paton announced on his blog that all 75 daily newspapers in his group would be moving to pay meters.

by Nick Tjaardstra nick.tjaardstra@wan-ifra.org | November 20, 2013

Some 23 Digitial First dailies already use pay meters – these are newspapers that Digital First acquired in its merger with Media News Group two years ago, Paton notes.

Interestingly, Paton takes a very different stance about paid digital subscriptions than most other publishers who have adopted them. As Mathew Ingram writes on the gigaom website: “while most media executives who have announced paywalls have made it sound as though they are striking a blow for the future of journalism — or that readers should somehow feel grateful that they are being allowed to pay for all the wonderful news these papers produce — Paton went out of his way to say that he doesn’t see paywalls as a long-term strategy.”

In his post, Paton stated: “Let’s be clear, paid digital subscriptions are not a long-term strategy. They don’t transform anything; they tweak. At best, they are a short-term tactic. I have said that often enough in the past. But it’s a tactic that will help us now.”

He also notes that DFM has decided to use paid digital subscriptions only after some other experiments, such as trying Google Consumer Surveys, have not been as successful as the company had hoped.

The addition of DFM to the ranks of U.S. publishers using paid digital content is signficant, as Ken Doctor writes on his newsonomics blog: “By my count, that will mean that 41 percent of U.S. dailies will have restricted digital access, aka paywalls, in place, as soon as all the logistics of implementation, still underway at many places are finished. At Gatehouse, that’s 80 smaller dailies. At Gannett, that’s now all 81 of its community dailies (and not USA Today). Advance, I believe, is the only remaining large chain to offer unfettered free digital access, a plan that I’ve described as misguided. That’s an astounding number. Let’s recall that the New York Times went up with its metered paywall, borrowing the idea tested and honed by the Financial Times, just three years ago.”

And, of course, it’s not only U.S. news publishers moving to paid digital content.

For example, in Australia, PANPA recently reported that digital subscription sales have surged in that country as well. Specifically, PANPA points to results from the newspapers: The AgeThe Australian, and the Sydney Morning Herald. “Digital subscription sales have jumped 111 percent collectively for their weekday editions, according to figures released by the Audited Media Association of Australia,” the story stated.

“Across platforms The Australian has never had more paying customers at close to 170,000 a day Monday to Friday,” PANPA quoted The Austalian‘s Editor-in-Chief, Chris Mitchell, as saying. He added “… we are very pleased with engagement levels across our digital platforms which are averaging 2 1/2 hours a week.”

DFM is surely hoping they can experience similar success with their transition to paid digital content.