Monitor Daily Tries to Rethink News - and Paywalls - to Succeed Digitally

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On Monday, the Christian Science Monitor launched Monitor Daily, a daily news digest of five pieces of content (stories, videos, graphics), plus one editorial and "one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight often related to the news." It's emailed to subscribers each weekday at 6 p.m.

"Enjoy a thoughtful evening read," the website says.

An article on NiemanLab outlined their paywall strategy. The Daily is free for a month. Then it will cost $11 per month or $110 a year, or $9 a month/$90 a year for subscribers to the print weekly. 

Writes NiemanLab: "While the Monitor's website will still run some free content—namely evergreen Monitor stories that are one or two months old—'our mission is really to get you to sample this thing, and eventually get you to become one of our subscribers,' said [David] Grant, [associate publisher].

"The homepage has been completely redesigned around the daily. In general, Editor Mark Sappenfield said, when it comes to the Daily coverage, users will get to see the package for free one time before they're required to subscribe."

At the SIPA Annual 2017 Conference, June 5-7 in Washington, D.C., this topic will be explored in a session titled, The Difference Between Winning and Losing the Paywall Game. Bruce Rhodes (pictured top), founder, KWI Partners, and Rob Ristagno, CEO, Sterling Woods Group are the presenters.

In December, I asked Rob, who at one time was the COO at America's Test Kitchen, what lessons he learned there. "Besides becoming a better cook," he said, "I learned the importance of having the discipline to charge for quality content. Granted, you always have to give away some content to build trust and loyalty, but to survive, you can't undermine your business model by giving away your best stuff for free."

In a report on paywalls from BI Intelligence last year, they concluded that there is no one-size-fits-all model for publishers. Those with highly specific and unique content tend to gravitate toward strict paywalls, while those with a more general interest focus often operate with metered paywalls.

But the report also said that the traditional paywall model needs to evolve. "Millennials are more hesitant to pay for news subscriptions than their predecessors. Long term, publishers need to consider alternative models like micropayments, membership programs and user data exchanges to monetize readers." Ristagno concurred: "We did extensive research and found that the most important thing publishers can do to grow their digital revenues is to have a robust digital membership program."

(Only 25% of U.S. millennials pay for some sort of digital news service (newspapers, magazines or news apps), according to a 2015 survey from the American Press Institute, while 55% of them pay for entertainment content.)

The Monitor's strategy is to emphasize their legacy and reliability and heart of their product. "We think it is time to rethink the news... Over the Monitor's 108-year history, we've built a legacy of high-quality, distinctive journalism because we recognize that news is more than facts. It's the story of how we are each trying to make our homes, communities and nations better."

Interestingly, they're also into slogans: Rethink the news. Less noise, more insight. Journalism can be a force for good—for inspiration and progress. But only if we all make it so.

In yesterday's column, I reported that Mitch Eisen, CTO at Real Magnet, is seeing the best engagement from shorter, visual content—"short blurbs with links." That's exactly what the Monitor is doing. According to NiemanLab, each article can either be read in "30 Sec. Read" form—a summary that still has a clear beginning, middle and end—or expanded to a full edition that is estimated, in total, to take about 50 minutes to read. The Daily is also on the Monitor's website and available as audio (read by Monitor staff) to stream or download.

"We're bringing the whole organization into focus around this task," said Sappenfield.

It takes that kind of commitment these days.

Ronn Are you subscribed to the SIPAlert Daily?
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…