local media insider
Case study

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel gains 95% digital conversions from print subscribers

Alisa Cromer
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Summary: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's simple launch strategy - a 15% forced-price increase to print subscribers that includes digital, plus a metered model for online-only subscribers - uses a model that yeilds the most revenues in many cases.

For example, with a $4.75 weekly rate, or $247 per year per subscriber at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal produced a 15% increase over and above the standard 3%, or about $37 per subscriber. So at a 95% conversion rate, we estimate this plan yields an extra $3.7 million for a 105,000 paid circulation paper, to $4.9 million for a 210,000 paid circulation paper (the Journal Sentinel falls somewhere in between), before digital only subscriptions kick in.  

Additionally the forced model trains the audience to think of a subscription as an overall branded bundle, which could be useful long term. 

(Note: A variety of factors including a low to mid-range starting price, timing, and future plans weigh into the ability to pull off this model. For a list of important factors and a quick-and-dirty excel spreadsheet of this model click here)

Media: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, owned by Journal Communications

Print circulation: Sunday - 328,475, Daily (M-F) - 185,709
Key Executive: Kelly Wood, Circulation Marketing Director

Challenge: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wanted to lift circulation prices higher than the normal 3% price every year to offset revenue losses from a variety of areas.

In short, Wood's team wanted a paid content strategy that would increase subcription rates by 15% to 18% overall, and which could now include a variety of digital products. They also wanted to put to work the media's unique opportunity in a market that is home turf for a major national sports franchise, The Green Bay Packers.

Strategy: Instead of making digital an optional upsell for paid subscribers (opt-in and opt-out models are both popular), the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's models showed a forced upsell yielded the most revenues, Wood said. She launch launched a force multi-platform upsell for its print subscribers, branded as “ JS Everywhere" in January, 2012.

Key tactics:

*Print subscribers got unlimited access to "JSEverwhere," including all digital products: e-edition, web site and mobile apps. It will also include the iPad app when launched (a key regret is not having the iPad app on line yet, though the package worked well anyway).

*A digital only option was launched at 99 cents per week, or $51 a year, on a metered model that kicks in at 20 stories per month. The MJS calculated the meter would affect 5% of users. The low pricing was subjected to an internal debate, which finally settled on the fact that "Steve Jobs must have been on to something with ITunes," as well as an informal survey of 30-year olds in the company who said they would not pay $2 a week, but would at 99 cents.

*The strategy allows free areas including "Tap Milwaukee," obituaries, and classifieds to remain outside the paywall.  The paywalls may removed during key advertising issues to maximize ad revenues.

* Branding for JSEverywhere was also everywhere: email, direct mail, postcards, and in paper (see promotions to the right and cick to enlarge). 

*The launch of the new platforms in January was strategically timed to correspond with the during the football Play-offs in which the Green Bay Packers, “a religion,” were at their highest, peak interest - and when three or four of the Journal Sentinel sports analysts briefly became top national sports analysts on the winning team.

*A e-mail and direct mail program to get JSEverywhere subscribers to register. "Even though we've got the money already, we want them to be interacting with it. We really need them to go in and register and take a look at it."

"If I hit my (pay)wall, it'ss a couple steps to prove to you that I'm a subscriber." So they needed an automated system for people who  don't know their user name and password, with a simple "please register me" button that was connected by the  last name and zip code, phone number.  To automated the check-out, the Journal Sentinel used its existing vender,  marketingg2.com,  a vendor that supplied their customer service portal for all payment online orders and vacation transactions.

"As a subscriber you could have registered before we luanched;  you would have to register to enter  vacation stop, payments and so on. And there are a  large number who have never registered.

While the company also looked at press+, marketingg2 was already a vendor and "they could handle it." 


*E-mail is especially effective in driving the new registrations. "Every time we put the reminder with an email notification, we see spike in registrations."

*An unintended benefit for advertisers was that the E-edition to the JSverywhere  also had a much higher open-rate.

*Digital traffic continues to grow. Launching during the Packards season when readers were addicted to the content, and affecting only the 5% of heavy users has paid off; the affect on traffic of forcing the paid upsell with a 99cent digital only model was negligible.

*Customer service was the biggest surprise. "We know that every week we are going to get 2600 billing calls with people tring to play let's make a deal." And they did, forcing them to staff up the customer service desk.

*Digital sign ups are much easier than print. Digital only revenue started out with 3000 Packer super-fans and is now netting 80 new digital sign-ups a month.

*Registration of current subscribers is the most difficult.
“They may have registered before using the name of a pet that died in 1992, and will call up trying to find out the name. The registration is a help desk, with the average registration call went up from 2 to 5 minutes to up to 9 minutes, typically "to a 92 year old in Walloosa. Its something we really missed on."

*The initial online-only registration questions clogged the system briefly. "We should have added an FTE, we did absorb it but didn't staff for it. That was only for first four weeks...in the first two weeks 2000 wanted to start as digital only subscribers."

*Consider a dedicated registration help desk if using this model. "Some of our regular customers got stuck in the que" waiting to get their calls answered." Rerouting the new calls to a support desk would have solved this issue.

*Have as many apps and features ready prior to launch. Not having an iPad app was a disappointment.

*Make it simple: One log in, immediate access are key. Consider online tutorials.

Many thanks to Kelly Wood, Circulation Marketing Director at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, for sharing this success story with us, and to NAA MediaXchange for three valuable circulation presentations.

Alisa Cromer

The author, Alisa Cromer is publisher of a variety of online media, including LocalMediaInsider and  MediaExecsTech,  developed while on a fellowship with the Reynolds Journalism Institute and which has evolved into a leading marketing company for media technology start-ups. In 2017 she founded Worldstir.com, an online magazine,  to showcases perspectives from around the  world on new topic each month, translated from and to the top five languages in the world.

milwaukee journal sentinel, marketingg2go, subscribe, journal communications


1 comment on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • jeff.hartley

    Kelly and her team did a great job and have been willing to share much that has shaped our coming All-Access launch.

    Saturday, July 7, 2012 Report this

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