The decision to create a hybrid model in which a subscription fee would be charged for premium content on edweek.org has seemed like the right move for us for a little while now. Not that there haven’t been unknowns, of course, or that we haven’t felt some sense of risk, but that always comes with change and running any kind of enterprise, doesn’t it?
More than a few years ago it became clear that a small, but growing, number of Education Week print subscribers either preferred to read our articles online, or were willing to read them online because, unlike our print edition, we were not charging for online content. Some former print readers outright told us that they used to subscribe in print, but that free online access convinced them to let their subscriptions lapse. And we began to see some slippage in our renewal rates, which of course was a concern since our renewing subscribers really help support our work at Education Week.
As we were witnessing these changes in our business, we were seeing more and more evidence of people paying for online content, especially for professional or business information, which was really encouraging. And last but not least, I know many of us at Education Week believe that we should make our information available in whatever format the reader wants it (the idea of being medium agnostic). It’s not the format that determines value but the information itself--so why give away valuable information online? Sure, we did it in the early years of edweek.org while we were trying to figure out the Web and while we were building an online presence, but that didn’t mean we needed to keep giving it away (or that we could afford to!).
I think being able to extend the Education Week brand on edweek.org also gives us an advantage. K-12 educators who know us, trust us to get the real story and report it accurately, and we believe that the value they’ve always gotten in print will translate online when we begin asking for payment. We do recognize, though, that some edweek.org visitors don’t know Education Week and that’s one of the reasons we wanted to continue to offer some of our content at no charge, largely in our registered tier. Although great copy and a smart offer can do a lot to attract a subscriber, there’s still nothing like being able to offer the visitor the chance to sample your information to give them a sense of your work and its value.
I want to jump in and say that as clear as all this seems to me right now, it’s really become a more comfortable decision over time. Also, the idea of charging for some online content was informed a little bit by some positive experiences we had with our print and online recruitment franchises.
For many years we sold job ads in Education Week’s print edition, and it’s been an excellent business. Our pages were (and still are) a natural place to find high-quality educators. About four or so years ago we started placing print ads online at no additional charge, just a very basic listing. We then got up the nerve to begin asking our recruiters to give us $99 to post their ad online as part of a forced buy (you couldn’t just buy an online ad). It went amazingly well! We then started selling online enhancements like Top Jobs, and that was also a big winner. We eventually got to the point of launching a robust job site, and took the ultimate leap of faith by uncoupling the print buy from online job postings, which so far has been a good move for us and for our recruiters. We’re trying again to be medium agnostic by allowing recruiters to tap in to our community of educators however they like–print, or online, or both. There are good reasons for a recruiter to purchase both a print and an online ad (like greater total audience), just like there are good reasons for someone to consider a print subscription to Education Week, which also includes premium access to edweek.org. But if it’s just online that you want, we’re happy to sell it to you.
From the beginning of our paid content planning, we wanted subscribers to our print newspaper to automatically get full access to all the online content on edweek.org. We didn’t want to charge extra for online access to folks who were already paying us for a print subscription. But we did want to offer an online-only subscription. We wanted to offer our readers the opportunity to get Education Week content however they wanted, wherever they wanted. If they only wanted online access, we didn’t want to force them into a mode–print–that they weren’t interested in. Sure, a forced print buy could increase our ABC circulation numbers, but those numbers would then obviously not accurately reflect true readership of the Education Week print edition.
I’m proud of us for recognizing that an online-only subscription would help provide our readers what they want, and that we didn’t force all of our online users to take a newspaper subscription so that we could artificially increase our print circulation numbers. We hope this decision will prove to be a good business decision for us on lots of levels.
On the subject of page views, we know that adding a third tier or a subscription “wall” will decrease our page views, at least in the short term. We definitely took a hit on page views when we introduced registration on edweek.org, although they mostly recovered. We think about this because we, like most online sites, are continuing to generate more revenue from online advertising. We believe that some of the normal decline in page views will be mitigated by our registered tier, where visitors can access some new content each week. Basically, we’re looking at the total revenue and readership picture, and we’re not expecting or even wanting advertisers to continue to be the sole support of edweek.org. Some of that support needs to come from the reader.
We’ve significantly focused on and invested in edweek.org for the past several years with some real successes, and we’re poised to take the next big step, the introduction of our paid content model. I’m excited, and truth be told, a little bit nervous, but I think that’s OK.
Editorial Projects in Education,
Education Week and
A version of this news article first appeared in the Behind the Scenes blog.