Crain's Chicago Business in June rolled out a metered subscription model for its ChicagoBusiness.com website. Under the new system, users are able to view up to 12 articles each month before they are asked to pay $59 for an annual subscription, according to CCB. (CCB is published by Crain Communications Inc., which also publishes Digital Directions.) A combined print and digital subscription costs $99. Brian Reilly, director of digital strategy at CCB, spoke with Digital Directions about the brand's approach to a metered model.
Digital Directions: What was the impetus for moving to a metered model and how do you think it's going to impact CCB's overall circulation, both print and digital?
Brian Reilly: We had a couple of goals. We wanted to synch up our print and our digital subscription efforts. So one of the things we're doing with this project is allowing our print subscribers to upgrade to a digital subscription for free for a limited period of time. What that'll help us do is to upgrade those readers to a combo package, which is a higher price point, and will also help us sync our renewal marketing efforts.
In addition to the 12-page view meter that will trigger a subscription request, we now are asking people to register—or log in if they're already registered—after three article views in a month. Since we launched on June 14, we've seen an increase in registration of about 250% compared with the previous year. Part of the registration process is asking people to opt in to receive some of our newsletters; those numbers have greatly increased (and that) helps us justify rate increases down the road and makes us a stronger product for advertisers.
DD: As part of the metered model, your print content online is now going to be available for free whereas previously you had to subscribe. How does that work?
Reilly: We write longer form content for print, and we write breaking news for the online. They serve different purposes, but they're of equal value. With this model, people can choose what they want to read rather than have us tell them. We're not going to say, "This is paid, and this is free.' It's not the type of content that determines what action you can take; it's where you are in your meter each month.
DD: For business publishers grappling with monetizing their online content, what are some of the biggest challenges to creating a metered model?
Reilly: There are two main things. The most important one is to understand your metrics. We've set our registration speed bump and our meter subscription request levels where they are because we've studied our data and we know what percentage of readers get to each of those points each month. We think that, with the way we've set up registration and subscription levels, we're not going to have any negative effect on our advertising revenue, which is still the lion's share of our digital revenue. At the same time, we're going to increase our circulation revenue in our digital properties.
The second most important thing is the technology. We built the system in-house. We were very comfortable doing this and think we ended up with a much better product that is more tightly integrated with our customer databases than we would have if we had gone off-the-shelf.