The Maneater

New Missourian paywall method looks promising, so far

The Missourian’s switch to Google surveys to allow unlimited, free access to its content shows an improvement from the previous 24-hour pay wall.

Ben Kothe / Graphic Designer

Since switching to Google surveys on June 23 instead of a 24-hour paywall, the Columbia Missourian has found the new method of generating revenue to be successful.

After responding to [complaints from students that the Missourian was not accessible enough] (http://www.themaneater.com/stories/2014/1/29/missourian-still-unsure-how-remove-paywall-student/), the newspaper researched different methods to allow access to their stories while continuing to make a profit.

Under the old paywall method, a reader could not access content over 24 hours old unless they were a subscriber.

“The time meter wasn’t working for us in terms of revenue, satisfaction or social media,” MIssourian executive editor for innovation Tom Warhover said. “The stories you wanted to share were often more than a day old, so you couldn’t.”

By using Google surveys, the reader answers survey questions, then gains access to the content for free, regardless of how old it is. For every survey a reader answers, the Missourian receives 5 cents.

The cost is shifted from the readers to Google. In return, Google uses the survey answers for market research.

“We knew we could no longer open up everything for free to everybody in this day and age when newspapers are really struggling to make money,” Missourian general manager Dan Potter said. “We think the surveys were a great compromise and we consider it a free model as long as you take a few seconds and answer a survey.”

He said the Missourian still receives income when readers visit the website, even if they aren’t paying for the articles themselves.

If readers don’t want to answer surveys, a subscription costs $5.95 per month for unlimited access.

The idea to use Google surveys originated with Missourian marketing manager Bryan Chester.

After looking at other newspapers’ websites, specifically the Albuquerque Journal, that used similar methods, he contacted Google and other newspapers to hear their feedback. After gathering information, he presented it to Dean Mills, dean of the School of Journalism.

Since switching to the survey method, the Missourian’s website views have grown, Chester said.

“Website traffic is increasing by about 15 to 20 percent,” he said. “We are getting a lot of search traffic because when we had the 24-hour metered model, we were removed from search engines.”

With the start of the new semester, Potter said he believes students will increase the traffic as well.

The growth in website traffic will hopefully lead to an increase in revenue, Chester said.

Students and faculty have given an almost unanimous positive response, Potter said.

“We’re glad we found something that solved what students viewed as a problem, and we’ve gotten positive comments,” he said. “Other than about two people who were bothered, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.”

Chester said before implementing the surveys, there were concerns about maintaining this method.

“If for some reason market research firms no longer see the data they’re receiving is valid, then the inventory would shrink up and we would lose revenue that way,” he said. “That’s always a concern but it’s not a reason not to do something.”

More concerns dealt with the surveys themselves.

“We’ve been assured that when (viewers) take these surveys, (they’re) not passing along particularly private information that Google is using in other ways,” Warhover said.

Although the Missourian has had a positive experience so far with the Google surveys, it will continue to keep searching for ways to improve its website.

“Every day, we’re looking for new ways to strengthen ourselves or better serve our readers,” Potter said. “We’re constantly looking for ways to improve and we’re willing to listen to people who think they’ve found it or to find it ourselves.”

Because technology is perpetually evolving, readers may have a different experience at the Missourian website if its staff finds a more efficient method.

“It remains to be seen how well this will work in the long run,” Warhover said. “If there’s one thing we can be sure of, it’s there’s nothing constant when it comes to digital business models, so what works today may not work a year from now.”

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