Thursday, July 25, 2013

Digital membership FAQ

Posted By on Thu, Jul 25, 2013 at 12:04 PM

We've gotten a number of questions concerning our announcement that we're introducing digital subscriptions beginning Aug. 1 for our four blogs. On the jump, we've attempted to answer all those. We'll update this as more questions come in and eventually house it in some place easy to find.

Also: Nieman Journalism Lab, a leader in future-of-news coverage, devotes a long look at our move. And Arkansas Business covered it, too (link corrected).

Is the Times the first alternative weekly to begin charging for access to online content?

Yes.

Didn’t Max Brantley once say, “Free yesterday, free today, free forever.”?

Yes. It was not the first time —- nor likely the last —- that he was wrong.

Doesn’t this mean the Arkansas Times is in deep financial trouble?

No. We are in our 39th year of publication. We are debt-free. Most years we finish in the black, if barely. We are currently operating at a profit. But we’ve had to cut costs to achieve profitability in a changing media market. We think new revenue is essential to sustaining and improving the Times. Improvement means more news coverage, more in-depth reporting projects, more of everything.

If this fails to draw many subscribers and tamps down readership, which causes advertisers to flee, will the Times fail, too?

No. This is a proactive move, not a reactive one. If this is successful, it’ll allow us to do bigger, better, more. If it’s not, we’ll turn off the meter and go back to free.

How will this affect advertising?

We don’t anticipate it have any effect. Semi-regular readers, who make up a sizable percentage of our traffic, won’t hit the wall. Hopefully, a sizeable chunk of our core readers will become digital members. Engaged readers usually make advertisers happy.

The cost is too high/I don’t want to pay for your point of view/you’ve lost me.

Our research indicated some, including many friends, wouldn’t endorse a subscription. We hate to lose readers, friend or foe. Happily, even some political foes have acknowledged the usefulness of our web offerings and have already signed up. We have intentionally made access “leaky.” Plenty of free reading will still be possible, particularly counting referred links, multiple device and browser use and other factors. We hope those who read sufficiently to engage the meter will believe it’s worth a subscription for unlimited access. We’ll miss those who don’t.

Do we need to sign up and pay for all four blogs? I really don't care what happens in Eat Arkansas, Eye Candy and Rock Candy.

It’s a package deal. Also, you should give them a try!

What about when Max goes on vacation?

It’s true that Max is the only person on staff who spends all of his time on the web, but as Alan Leveritt noted in his letter announcing digital membership, the rest of the staff spends about 60 percent of its time working on the web. We’d like to see that grow further. Leslie Peacock and Robert Bell spend time every day on Eye Candy and Rock Candy, respectively. They and everyone else pitch in on the Arkansas Blog as stories within their beats come along. See David Ramsey’s coverage of healthcare expansion. Or Leslie Peacock’s reports on the tech park. Or David Koon’s coverage of crime and courts.

Did you conduct a reader survey first? What did it find?

The University of Missouri conducted a survey of Times readers in May that showed that readers were willing to pay between $9.99 and $10.99 per month for access to our four blogs.

What constitutes a “blog view” toward the 10 free views allowed each month before metering takes effect?

A blog view is like a pageview. When a reader visits the Arkansas Blog, that’ll count as one blog view. If she leaves the blog page and visits another website and then returns, that’ll count as another. Reading the jump of a post would count as another. Reading the blog on the homepage won’t count towards the limit.

Will links from social media count against the 10-view limit? What about RSS?

No. Any article linked from any external site — social media, email, another website — will be excluded from the limit.

How did you arrive at 10 views per month?

Ten seemed like a nice round number. After evaluating our success at converting readers into digital members and how the meter affects traffic, we may change it up.

How many pageviews does the Arkansas Blog receive in a typical month?

So far this year, it’s averaged 485,000. The site averages near a million pageviews per month.

Will you disclose the number of subscribers?

Probably.

Does the digital subscription apply to multiple computers/phones/tablets?

Yes.

Again, yes, a single login will give subscribers access from any device.

Is there a family plan?

See above and follow your heart.

Can subscribers pay with PayPal?

Yes.

Is there an annual subscription option?

Not at the moment. More money goes into our pocket rather than the paywall provider if we maintain a certain monthly revenue stream. But if we get more feedback requesting an annual option, we'll add one.

Does digital membership come for free to print subscribers?

No. We don’t make any money on print subscriptions. Whatever we get only covers the cost to mail. Also, the print and blogs are two separate products. But we may consider a subscription bundle if we get enough requests.

Do I have to give my real name to become a digital member? Will the Times be monitoring my use?

No real name required. Just an email address (fakename44@gmail.com would work fine) and a credit card number or PayPal account. TinyPass, our paywall provider, handles all credit card processing. In our admin access all we can see are users’ email addresses and subscription rates. There’s no mechanism that would allow us to track users, nor would we want to.

How do we sign up?

Glad you asked. Here’s the link.

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