Expert Says Improve Online Subscriptions and Save Your Newspaper

online advertisingOnline Marketing Expert Speaks Up

By Simon Abramovitch

NEW YORK(RushPRnews)10/28/08–A newspaper’s demise can become old news fast and as newspapers try to squeeze the most out of their sites in the face of narrowing profit margins, nothing can afford to go to waste. With the current economic climate and the tumultuous times facing print media, online news sites have still done little to promote and sell subscriptions as a potential asset while continuing to improve their online presence.

There’s a tough market standing in front of the newsroom. Publishers have to think print and web simultaneously. The Chicago Tribune recently launched a campaign, promoting the new bolder, re-design of the newspaper. Worth mentioning are the colorful graphics and new story forums. But what makes the Tribune’s new launch solid and achievable in both web and print is the promotion of its print version on its web site and for starters, the availability for subscription in over three different places on the home page alone. The subscription page may be a little information-heavy, but hey, at least the readers know where to go to subscribe.

To survive, a newspaper must take full advantage of their resources during the transition from print to web newsreading. The benefits of promoting both online and print are two-fold. Firstly, they allow the actual sale of a product already produced and well-branded. Secondly, they allow opportunities to essentially turn one reader into two, exposing them to two sets of ads. Even though it may seem the printed newspaper is on its inevitable way out, the CPM (cost per mille) rates are still favorable and if there’s a print edition already, why let it slip away? With profitability an increasing concern, it’s surprising to still see how many news sites seem to break the basic rules of sales conversion.

In a sense, it’s understandable. As a content-based site, newspapers tend to favour advertising and information services (like classifieds) as the go-to revenue streams. Print and online work on similar principles in that increased readership means more eyes on ads. But while print editions have been sold for centuries, selling a product online is different. In focusing on the online advertising market, the reality is that the ideal sales process for selling print subscriptions may have gone overlooked, and could be a missing link to the survival of print media.

The closing of the New York Sun last October is now becoming a scary reality for many newspapers. Editor-in-Chief of the Sun Seth Lipsky said in his remarks to Sun staff, “in the end we were out not only of money but time.”

To avoid a similar fate to the Sun, publishers have to commit to an online version that, at a minimum, relays to readers that an online subscription exists. While it seems obvious, it often isn’t the case. With the Sun’s web site, subscription availability was cluttered, and took the user through a long and winding road.

The key here is to make opportunity for subscription visible to the user and allow them to sign up with the least amount of clicks.

The most common invitation to online newspapers’ print edition is often hidden amidst a score of other text links, as is the case, most of the time, with the New York Times. The user might have been presented with over a hundred links before scrolling as far as the subscription link. To make matters worse, the link to sign up for home delivery often shares company with “terms of service”, and “careers”. Could interest in a job at the paper possibly mirror interest in the printed edition? Even if that were the case, we’re talking sales here.

The link to anything that makes money belongs in plain sight.

The Wall Street Journal has been very successful selling subscriptions using prize, front-page header showcasing. While the content itself is a strong contributor to their achievements, allowing readers one-click access to the subscription conversion funnel doesn’t hurt either.

What newspapers have to keep in mind is that once a design is able to incite a click, it must stay consistent. No interested customer should be forced to re-orient themselves in a conversion funnel. The visuals of the brand should stay consistent, and so should the URLs. News sites that take the user to unfamiliar, new domains can be jarring to see, and certainly do not help.

Conversion funnels like that of the New York Times force users to jump through unnecessary hoops. At every new page and new call to action, there runs the risk of losing potential subscribers. After a user has expressed an interest in a subscription through a click, darn it just let them subscribe! Most of all, the form has to be kept simple. Do not ask them for first-borns, or, as the Chicago Tribune and New York Times do, phone numbers.

To stay in the game, newspapers will have to use what they’ve got. The road to success is only a few steps away, but those steps have to be kept easy, because people can always head in another direction. The New York Sun’s downfall is an unfortunate warning to all newspapers out there: in the world of news every penny counts, so selling subscriptions online could be just the ticket out of omission.

About the author: Simon Abramovitch is Social Media Director at NVI, responsible for creative content development and strategic web promotion.

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