Today he is Vice President and Executive Editor of the The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky (USA), the state’s largest newspaper and part of the Gannett regional paper group.
In his new position, clearly he is tasked with some of the same goals he had with WSJ, but with some similar yet very different challenges.
“Hindsight is 20/20…”
Actually, he has the advantage of hindsight in this case.
Still, during a digital paid content panel discussion at Digital Media Europe 2014, Budde said it made sense to take a brief look back at WSJ.com’s early paid content days. “Back then we did have the advantage of building from the ground up and to not be so concerned about focusing too much on advertising.”
Crucially, he said, WSJ started with a low price point, charging US$ 49 a year for a subscription, compared to an annual print subscription of US$ 195, and a newswire subscription of US$ 600 per year.
“This allowed us to not only maintain site traffic, but even build traffic. And you have to understand that back then we really had a hard paywall, only making some of the home page content free later on.”
And if you look at today’s digital paid content landscape, “I would like to think that we could ‘fast forward’ to today, but in reality we have ‘slow-forwarded.’… Now most of us are playing catchup.”
Like most publishers out there, the Courier-Journal faces the same challenge of trying to change the user mindset of getting content for free (for so long) to dipping into their pockets for valuable, unique content.
Over the last months, Gannett and the Courier-Journal have been rolling out redesigns of sites and products on the paid content frontier. “With the vast network of Gannett, we have been able to really launch improved user-centred products,” he said.
All digital products are included for one price with reduced advertising presence and focus, he said.
He was able to convince his team to lower the monthly digital-only subscription price from US$ 13 per month to $9.95.
Yet the challenges are still there that most publishers are accustomed to:
- Digital usage being so fragmented
- Crucially, “the digital snacking mentality” to overcome.
- Metered paywall is too easy to circumvent.
- And there are still a lot of lovers of “print” presentation, he said. The paper has about 25,000 subscribers to its purely e-edition replica.
Adding more value
So to entice readers to pay, Budde and the paper are encouraging their editorial team to focus on key subject areas and going deep with that content.
The company is also offering bundles of other content, as well as personalisation: “I think there is a lot of opportunity to build platforms for our users that they want and understand, ways to tailor our subscription model.”
Using metrics to drive subscribers
Key to that strategy is using metrics, but using them wisely, he said.
“We really want to understand what they like, but also what they don’t like…. Timing can be crucial,” he said.