The Post and Courier paywall tests yielded new subscribers and known users in GNI Subscriptions Lab


The Google News Initiative Subscriptions Lab partnered with 10 newspaper publishers to conduct tests to yield actionable results and new revenue. Local Media Association and FTI Consulting were selected as partners in the Lab, which launched in March 2019 with the goal of helping newspapers across North America find sustainable and thriving consumer-driven business models.

Source: The Post and Courier

Participants have engaged in community-building cohort calls and meetings, benchmarking exercises, roadmap development, and are now in the final phase of the 10-month project, realizing the results from tests founded in knowledge offered through the Lab.

The Post and Courier set its sights on two experiments to get more information about unknown site visitors and convert them to more engaged users and paying subscribers.

“We wanted to determine if locked, premium content was a viable piece of a digital subscription strategy,” said Mitch Pugh, executive editor of The Post and Courier. “We also know we need to increase the percentage of our users who are known. In other words, the number of users we have email addresses for. These two tests would help us determine the best path forward.”

Utilizing the digital audience revenue team — which includes representatives from the digital newsroom, product/development team, marketing team, and a data specialist, as well as Pugh and president and publisher P.J. Browning — The Post and Courier conducted two experiments that yielded 362 new emails and 68 subscribers.

FTI Consulting assembled this experiment framework and data.

Experiment #1: Unlock article with email (registration wall)

Background: The Post and Courier has relatively few known users among its total audience — just 5.6% of all user visits were from known users, according to recent analytics.

Hypothesis: Non-subscriber visitors may be willing to exchange their email address for the ability to unlock premium content. This acts as a combined lead generation and pay model function.

Experiment design: Lock one news article and one opinion article per day, selected by the executive editor, opinion editor, digital audience and product editor, and audience engagement editor.

Results: 362 new emails at a 0.5% email capture rate

Source: FTI Consulting

Experiment #2: Premium content hard paywall

Background: The Post and Courier has a meter stop rate of 3.1%, relatively low compared to industry benchmarks of 5-7%. The meter stop rate is the number of unique visitors who hit the paywall divided by the number of unique visitors. A premium content hard paywall could drive more stops and ask more unique visitors to subscribe.

Hypothesis: Using a premium paywall can increase the stop rate and effectively increase conversion by putting high-value content behind the paywall.

Experiment design: Lock one news article and one opinion article per day, selected by the executive editor, opinion editor, digital audience and product editor, and audience engagement editor.

Results: 68 new subscribers at a 0.05% conversion rate

Source: FTI Consulting

Pugh said The Post and Courier defined success less by achieving good or bad numbers and more by what was learned.

“Overall, I think the test was a success,” he said. “We learned a significant number of people would respond favorably (become subscribers) when they experience locked content. That locked content doesn’t have any noticeable impact on our other business metrics like advertising revenue. It’s a strategy we have now expanded.

“In terms of the emails gained, we would have probably expected more in the neighborhood of 8-10x the number of paid subscribers. That test was also run over a holiday period, which may explain some of the low numbers. We are still evaluating the best ways to use locked content to gain known users.”

Substantial resources have been published throughout the course of the GNI Subscriptions Lab, including a benchmarks report, digital subscriptions playbook, and several case studies detailing subscription acquisition strategies that are garnering new revenue.

Read more from the GNI Subscriptions Lab >