Canada's Globe and Mail is incentivising newsroom staff to create compelling content that results in people signing up and paying for a monthly subscription to the paywalled site.
The package is offered to "a specific team of people", Phillip Crawley, publisher and chief executive of the Globe and Mail, said in a conference presentation today. "It's probably half a dozen people" out of a newsroom staff of 300, he explained.
This strategy of targets and bonuses causes "shock horror" in the industry, Crawley acknowledged, but is necessary to drive forward the business.
Two days before the end of last month the team required 64 more conversions to meet the target. Having a goal helped focus attention on publishing strong content and encouraging more new subscribers to pay, Crawley explained.
Speaking at the World Publishing Expo 2013, Crawley explained that a good deal of thought is put into how to grow subscriber numbers and web traffic. A team of five people, including the editor, meets at 9am every day to decide which content to put behind the wall, he said.
Putting up the wall
The Globe and Mail launched a porous paywall almost a year ago, and lets readers access 10 articles a month before being required to pay.
There are now 100,000 signups. One third are digital-only subscribers, the rest also get a print edition, which has a Saturday circulation of 300,000 and shifts 250,000 copies in the week.
Despite always being a subscription-based newspaper business, with 50 per cent of sales from subscriptions, digital data adds a great deal of value and the business now has a customer database of 100,000 people.
"We now have a much better profile of some of our most loyal readers – exactly the kind advertisers want to know more about," Crawley said.
The business has moved from data management to predictive analytics, he explained.
The Globe and Mail made a couple of key hires from ailing Canadian firm BlackBerry, and the new recruits have "made a tremendous difference" as they have discovered new ways of using data and pulling it all into one database.
The news outlet is targeting "a high-end market", Crawley said. "We are really only interested in readers who earn more than $100,000."
There is a great deal of "wasted money", he explained, as 40 per cent of content produced by Globe and Mail is read by fewer than 1,000 people.
"Predictive analytics helps," he said, but compelling content is the key to the success.
All video content is free to access and in front of the paywall, and new video content is being added.
The Globe and Mail is, for example, launching an eight-minute morning video show, focusing on news, business and lifestyle.
Digital saving distribution costs
Crawley also explained that last year the Globe and Mail withdrew the print product from two remote areas of Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador. It cost $1 million a year to fly newspapers to the island of Newfoundland, Crawley said, so customers are instead offered half-price digital products.
'Myth and magic'
But despite targets, subscription information and data intelligence, the Globe and Mail is aware that there is "myth and magic" in publishing.
"We stand for something," Crawley said of the 170-year-old brand. "Brands are built on many things but they are also built on myth and magic. It's not all about data, it's about people's perception of the brand."
"There still has to be magic, in that great story, that terrific picture, that investigation," he said.
Here are paywall lessons from the Globe and Mail shared in June.
Journalism.co.uk is at the World Publishing Expo in Berlin. Follow@SarahMarshall3 / @johncthompson / #wpe13 for updates. The raw 'live notes' of today's sessions are at this link.
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