Hello and welcome to even more new subscribers! New subscribers mean that this is useful to you and keeps me excited to continue doing this.
Today’s newsletter is like Chinese takeout, a bit of sweet and sour. First, the sweet: Digiday has a great piece looking at how Dagens Nyheter has halved churn over the last couple of years. Digital subscribers overtook print ones in May of this year. They are converting 2000 subscribers a week, and digital subscriber revenue has overtaken advertising as their largest digital revenue stream.
From a conversion standpoint, they have developed a hybrid three-layer paid content system: Metered, premium and dynamic. The dynamic layer puts content that attracts a significant amount of traffic in three to four hours behind the paywall.
In terms of conversion, they have found that the first four to six months are critical in reducing churn, which is why they have focused on things like newsletters and push notifications to build habits with newly converted subscribers.
That’s the sweet and now the sour from today. I got my start in journalism at a small local newspaper in western Kansas. My editor at the Hays Daily News Mike Corn used to joke, “It’s not the middle of nowhere, but you can see it from here.”
The Hays Daily News was part of a family-owned regional group, Harris Enterprises, and it pained me to read this deep dive into the decline of the papers that used to be part of the group and other papers across Kansas.
When I was there, things were lean, and I got my job just before a hiring freeze was instituted. In terms of newspapers, even though my career started in the mid-1990s, I never knew the golden age of the industry that some journalists hearken back to. The piece referred to those times and the fat margins papers had then as they enjoyed local monopolies:
For a while, though, newspapers were easy money: In most communities, the newspaper faced little competition and could charge high rates to advertisers. The result, as Lehigh University professor Jeremy Littau noted in a widely shared Twitter thread in January, is that in the 1990s, companies like Knight Ridder – which owned the Wichita Eagle and Kansas City Star before selling to current owner McClatchy – had profit margins of 30 percent or more.
As newspapers dwindle, residents in Hutchinson and elsewhere notice what’s missing , by Joel Mathis, The Journal
Harris Enterprises sold to Gatehouse in 2016. Gatehouse has a reputation for pretty deep cuts and centralised production out of a central hub in Austin Texas. The cuts have been deep, and the piece explains what those cuts mean to communities civically and otherwise.
But I’ll end on this somewhat optimistic note:
If there’s hope for strengthening the connection between news organizations and the communities they serve, then it might come first in those places where news gatherers have to form the closest of ties. There are still plenty of places in Kansas where locally owned papers are persevering.