American City Business Journals' weekly business journals, published in 40 metropolitan areas, are paid-subscription products in print and online—and always have been, said Whitney Shaw, ACBJ president-CEO.
The company's websites operate under a “freemium” model, where certain content is free while other content, labeled premium, is available only to subscribers.
“Like most publishers, we've debated everything from a complete lockdown of our sites, to metered-subscription models, to going totally free,” Shaw said. “We're still growing traffic rapidly, and we're selling subscriptions successfully. So I'm comfortable where we are today; but that doesn't mean we wouldn't change at some point.”
Rather than tweaking the subscription model, Shaw and his team are currently focused on rethinking the way content is presented across print, Web, social media and mobile. The biggest immediate change will be seen in redesigned print editions, which are moving toward a new approach that highlights news analysis and showcases ACBJ's local business reporters.
On Jan. 4, the Silicon Valley Business Journal in San Jose, Calif., was the first ACBJ property to debut the new editorial concept and a print redesign. “Although we have updated the websites daily with breaking news, there has been a lot of overlap between what would appear in print and on the website. This [new editorial approach] is our recognition that people want something different for print,” Shaw said.
“What sets the business journals apart from other business media companies is our local focus,” Shaw said. “Having feet on the street in 40 markets is our strength. So in addition to continuing to build our local news brands, we're now building our reporters' brands as well.” In the new Silicon Valley Business Journal format, key beat reporters now have dedicated pages called “hubs” with their photos and an opinion column at the top; examples include the Technology Hub, featuring Cromwell Schubarth, and Economic Insight Hub, featuring Lauren Hepler.
“It's because we have the recognized brand for local business coverage in each of our markets that we have been able to show paid circulation growth,” Shaw said.