Earlier this week, the Project on Excellence in Journalism issued a detailed digital revenue study that left out even the most basic details about the participating newspapers and paid content. Enter RR Donnelley’s Press+, whose co-founders Steve Brill and Grodon Crovitz have kept quiet about detailed results of their work with publishers to create new revenue streams. No financials but here’s what they have to share about pay experiments by 285 Press+ affiliates:
— All 285 of Press+’s active affiliates have opted for meters over full paywalls. “We now have the data to show that meters are better than old-fashioned paywalls, so it’s become easy to steer publishers to the meter,” Crovitz tells paidContent.The pitch for meter over wall? “With meters, publishers keep all their online ad revenue and readership whereas of course with paywalls there’s a big decline in both.”
— The average Press+ affiliate meter runs 14 page views a month, with the average dropping as publishers stabilize the impact on advertising and traffic. The higher meter limits tend to affect less than 10 percent of users. The lower the meter, the faster subscription revenue grows, according to Crovitz. So far, the highest conversion rates come when a user is offered the reminder to subscribe just before the free access ends.
— New York Times print subs get full access to digital as a value-add but 90 percent of Press+ affiliates are charging print subscribers extra, on average about $2 a month compared to an average of $6.50 a month for digital-only access. So far, according to Press+, print subs aren’t very price sensitive, leading publishers to experiment with higher prices. Some affiliates are trying what Press+ calls an opt-out bundle, combining print and digital in a higher-priced bundle that ups the subscription price — then letting print subs opt out of digital. Press+ claims papers where digital is included for a 10 percent price increase over print, publishers are seeing 90 percent adoption of digital.
Who are these publishers? About 50 companies are represented, including MediaNews, Lee Enterprises (NYSE: LEE), McClatchy (NYSE: MNI), Tribune, GateHouse, and MediaGeneral, along with indies like the Chicago Sun-Times and Omaha World-Herald. The other 30 affiliates include The Onion, non-U.S. papers, magazines, online only.
Of the 285 who have launched so far, 255 are U.S. based. Crovitz says another 185 U.S. papers are set to launch in coming months. They don’t track circulation but Brill estimates about 40 percent of their current affiliates are smaller papers with 25,000 or less print circ.
Does this fill the gap left by the Pew Research Center’s PEJ study? Not really — Press+ is a business offering selective data, not an independent research unit, and it leave individual results and identifiable data to the publishers. But it’s a business with the ability to aggregate increasingly meaningful results from a substantial number of publishers, which in turn can help its own clients and those who choose to go a different way make informed decisions.
I’d like to see more details, like how the income that is being generated fits in with the digital advertising and other non-traditional efforts PEJ addressed in what it says is the first of an ongoing series that will explore digital content revenue eventually. Are the papers that have added meters not only increasing digital revenue but stemming the effective loss PEJ found of $7 print dollars for every digital buck they bring in? How many subscribers are there, how many re-up and how does their engagement with the site change once they’re paying for access? How many publishers will look at the overall results and decide it isn’t worth continuing or will double down? (If you’re a publisher with a meter ticking or another model in play, let’s talk. I’m staci AT paidcontent.org.)
Steve Brill was the first person I heard from Monday after I wrote of my dismay at the lack of paid content data from PEJ. A year ago, when it sold to RR Donnelley (NSDQ: RRD) for what we now know was $19.6 million in cash, Press+ had about 20 affiliate launches. It now has 285 with more coming, likely one reason co-CEOs Brill and Crovitz received $15.3 million from RR Donnelley in their first-year earnout.
“That projection keeps getting higher because there is now an avalanche,” Brill wrote me. “A year ago that number was about 20. Inertia has flipped and become a herd.”