Timesunion Plus – A Digital Membership Product Powered by Marketing G2

Paraphrased from Jessica Martinez, Newspaper Association of America, 03/02/2015

The Albany Times Union has high hopes that their newly implemented paywall subscriber program will help build a stronger relationship with digital readers instead of just focusing on generating revenue.The idea behind the Albany Times Union's digital membership product, timesunionPLUS, that launched in January 2015, is to engage their online audience by creating a premium section of its website, full of exclusive 'members-only' content.

“Too many newspapers have damaged their relations with loyal customers by withdrawing the print product without offering a comparable alternative digitally,” stated Rex Smith, editor of the Albany Times Union. “We do not believe in slamming down a paywall around all of our content; that limits engagement with consumers.”

The newspaper is the latest news media organization in the Albany area to implement some form of paywall. Smith has stated that the program took a year to build and implement but that he does not consider it to be a traditional paywall service since only their exclusive news, investigative articles and only specific content written by the newspaper’s popular columnists, requires a subscription.

How the Paywall is Engaging Readers

All breaking news, lifestyle material, and photo galleries will still be free of charge on their website.

“This is a nuanced approach to putting our best journalism in a place where it’s available to the people who care about it most – our subscribers – while still making available to the mass audience the free content that generates most of our page views,” according to Smith.

Under the program, subscribers will also have full access to all of the Albany Times Union’s digital platforms including their iPad app, mobile site, and their popular eEdition, a digital copy of their newspaper that is delivered to each subscriber's e-mail inbox every morning.

In addition, print Albany Times Union subscribers will have access to the newspaper’s digital content for free. The program is an added bonus for established readers of the newspaper, but many still prefer to read their news on the printed page so the Albany Times Union has a plan in place to help those readers become familiar with their online content.

“The e-edition is the entry-level offering for timesunionPLUS subscribers and we’re trying to make that even more attractive by offering a free daily section based on a different topic depending upon the day of the week that includes health, science, food, and personal finance. We think the e-edition is a great way of helping people who like the print product make a transition to digital consumption,” said Smith.

Generating Revenue

Although the newspaper’s top priority is connecting with their audience, the paywall is their latest strategy that they intend to profit from. Readers can sign up for timesunionPLUS for as little as $3 a week, with prices that vary based on different program packages.

“We need to make a tighter connection with our digital customers,” said Smith. “That is, we want people to recognize the unique content offered by the Times Union, and by requiring them to register and pay for it, we think it will help set that relationship.”

The program has been in place for about a month and so far the newspaper is planning to continue to develop a solid connection with their readers.

“We’re making our premium content a subset of our overall content, and telling subscribers at any level that they can have access to everything,” stated Smith. “It should lead to sustained subscription levels and to more people signing up for digital-only service. If it doesn’t, we’ll try something else.”

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