The PR BlogPR TrendsThe News BusinessThe Future of Online News: How To Convert News Junkies

The Future of Online News: How To Convert News Junkies

In a digital-first world, online journalism must evolve.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

The future of online news is shrouded in clouds.

As a seasoned PR pro­fes­sion­al, I depend on keep­ing up with the news. I would pay for access to a news site… if the news site could give me what I want.

This art­icle will demon­strate just how much a news pub­lish­er has to offer — without resort­ing to hid­ing news stor­ies behind pay­walls.

Let’s get into it:

Journalists Need Smarter Paywalls

In my digit­al-first uni­verse, such as it is, a premi­um busi­ness mod­el for journ­al­ism does­n’t include pay­walled news. 

Instead, we should entice news lov­ers with a fuller exper­i­ence of what drew them. For a news pub­lish­er, the news is the equi­val­ent of con­tent mar­ket­ing for a reg­u­lar busi­ness. It’s not some­thing you ask users to pay for; it’s what makes users favour you with their attention.

However, as a news junkie, I’d love to pay for premi­um access!

But news pub­lish­ers must rethink how they con­vert news junkies into premi­um subscribers.

Read also: Dear Journalist,

Examples of Premium-Only Features

A premi­um com­munity for news lov­ers. The future of online news must attract “news junkies” (news con­sumers who crave a deep and total news exper­i­ence. The value pro­pos­i­tion should include some of the fol­low­ing fea­tures for premi­um-only users:

  • Ad-free exper­i­ence (on all platforms)
  • Individual and par­tially cus­tom­is­able interest-based front page
  • Links to related archived mater­i­al instead of ads
  • Visible out­bound links with­in articles
  • Access to journ­al­ist com­ment­ary adja­cent to articles
  • Free premi­um month for refer­ring one new premi­um user
  • A data­base search of the entire online archive 
  • Personal news archive for saved articles
  • Available to post com­ments to com­ment mod­er­a­tion queue
  • Community trophies for user engage­ment (become a super-user)
  • Super-user com­ments are also vis­ible to freem­i­um users
  • Access to uned­ited journ­al­ist­ic research mater­i­al for cit­izen journalism
  • Individual interest-based email send-outs
  • Priority options to send in mater­i­al for consideration
  • Access to wiki sec­tion for art­icle corrections
  • AMAs with journ­al­ists and edit­ors adja­cent to exclus­ive reveals
  • Access to share archived art­icles on social media (using refer­ral links)
  • Essential ana­lyt­ics tools (media usage data) for cit­izen journalism
  • Free to pub­lish clas­si­fied ads
  • Access to extra life­style con­tent (how-to art­icles, doc­u­ment­ar­ies, blog posts etc.)

Please note that none of the above add-ons includes hid­ing news stor­ies behind paywalls.

A premi­um com­munity for busi­ness accounts. Many brands love news. The value of a brand premi­um sub­scrip­tion could be sub­stan­tial. Here are a few examples of a bet­ter news exper­i­ence for busi­ness accounts:

  • All premi­um-only fea­tures for brand employees
  • Business-spe­cif­ic front page for brand employees
  • Programmatic dash­board for pla­cing tar­geted ads
  • Do-fol­low out­bound brand links for bet­ter SEO
  • Advanced media mon­it­or­ing services
  • Priority post box to send in con­tent for edit­or­i­al con­sid­er­a­tion (pay-to-play)
  • Pay to keep art­icles “nev­er-archived” and always visible
  • Advanced ana­lyt­ics tools (media usage data) for brand employees
  • Token-based sur­vey tools for brand employees
  • Indexable press release portal with do-fol­low links for bet­ter SEO
  • Publish life­style con­tent (how-to art­icles, doc­u­ment­ar­ies, blog posts etc.)

Please note that none of the above add-ons includes hid­ing news stor­ies behind paywalls.

Prerequisites for the Premium Model

News must be freem­i­um. All edit­or­i­al con­tent (i.e. the news) must be free and not pay­walled. The premi­um offer­ing is focused on fea­tures extend­ing and deep­en­ing the news experience.

Online News - Paywalls - Doctor Spin - The PR Blog
A new paradigm for online news.

Old ad mod­els must be replaced. The primary pur­pose of ads is to drive freem­i­um users to premi­um con­ver­sion, and the sec­ond­ary goal is to allow premi­um busi­ness accounts to place pro­gram­mat­ic ads.

News pub­lish­ers must learn online con­ver­sion. The future of online news must know to con­vert freem­i­um users (news read­ers) to premi­um users (fea­ture users) at a com­pet­it­ive level which means con­vert­ing 1% of all unique vis­it­ors at a min­im­um. This is a far cry from what the industry is cap­able of today. 1This also becomes a chal­lenge to keep­ing premi­um users on a monthly sub­scrip­tion mod­el (churn).

The Engagement Pyramid

The 1% rule of online engage­ment was mainly an urb­an legend on the inter­net. Still, a peer-reviewed paper from 2014 entitled The 1% Rule in Four Digital Health Social Networks: An Observational Study con­firmed the 1% rule of thumb.

Active pub­lics dis­trib­ute them­selves in a way proven sci­en­tific­ally by soci­olo­gists — long before the inter­net and social media emerged. 

The engage­ment pyr­am­id divides pub­lics into three dis­tinct groups:

  • Creators (1%)
  • Contributors (9%)
  • Lurkers (90%)

When study­ing inter­net for­ums spe­cific­ally, it’s not uncom­mon to find that 90% of users have nev­er pos­ted (lurk­ers), 9% are adding only to exist­ing top­ics and threads (con­trib­ut­ors), and 1% are act­ively start­ing new sub­jects and threads (cre­at­ors).

The engage­ment pyr­am­id is some­times called the 1% rule or the 1−9−90 rule.

Learn more: The Engagement Pyramid

Change: The Future of Online News

Why are journ­al­ists so slow to adapt? 

Most news pub­lish­ers are homeschooled in tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ing. They haven’t been exposed to high-level online busi­ness mod­els in highly com­pet­it­ive areas like e‑commerce, fash­ion, or enter­prise software.

Online busi­ness mod­els seem pro­voc­at­ive for most tra­di­tion­al news cor­por­a­tions. They’ve been enjoy­ing the tra­di­tion­al role of hav­ing pass­ive news consumers. 

News cor­por­a­tions are not accus­tomed to giv­ing their read­ers any influ­ence over their news exper­i­ence, nor are they will­ing to grant super-users (“news junkies”) any extra favours. This has got to change.

1 This also becomes a chal­lenge to keep­ing premi­um users on a monthly sub­scrip­tion mod­el (churn).
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

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