By: Nu Yang
While many publishers are trying to cater their online presence to a younger demographic, The Times Record (timesrecord.com), in Brunswick, Maine, saw its number of digital subscribers increase with readers over the age of 50 when it implemented a paywall on its website.
The Times Record is a small daily community paper with an 8,000 circulation Monday through Thursday and a 9,500 Friday circulation. Publisher Chris Miles said he decided to put up a paywall in order to protect the newspaper’s content.
After searching for a provider, he went with Our Hometown Inc., based in Clifton Springs, N.Y. The company serves 134 weeklies and eight dailies across the country with website design, social media marketing, paywall subscriptions, and PDF conversions.
Our Hometown chief executive officer and owner Stephen Larson said by using its system, the Times Record was able to cut down on labor and time. “With their old system, they had to copy and paste their content online,” Larson said. “Now they just send in a PDF, and we take everything — the pictures, the captions, the ads — and upload them.”
Print advertisers also benefit from the transition. Ads appear online, in an advertiser index, and on a customized profile.
“(They) were excited about it,” Miles said. “It’s a big plus for them to be able to get both in one package.”
The redesigned website went live in December 2011, and visitors could access the site for free before the paywall went into effect Jan. 2.
“I think it’s a testament that people went ahead and signed up during the free trial period instead of waiting for the paywall to go up,” Miles said.
Online readers can choose from a one-year, three-month, one-month, or single-issue subscription. Current print subscribers can opt to add in a one year online subscription. Online-only subscribers also receive a complimentary weekend copy that includes advertiser inserts in the carrier delivery area.
“I anticipated a strong negative response,” Miles said. “But what I found was that people who were (unhappy) were not subscribers. They were used to receiving content for free. I wasn’t finding any current subscribers who were complaining.”
Our Hometown recently released a study comparing user age demographics before and after the Times Record paywall. Using data from Quantcast, as of November 2011, the average age for users accessing the free website was 43. When the paywell went live, the average age of a digital subscriber rose to 59.
“I wasn’t surprised by that. We do have an older market here,” Miles said. “I did find that more people were paying for a one-year subscription as opposed to trying it out for just three months.”
“We didn’t ‘lose’ the young people,” Larson said. “We just didn’t gain them. There’s nothing wrong with an older crowd, since they’re more willing to pay for access. It’s a financial gain for the Times Record.”
Miles said he does want to work on reaching the younger demographic, though. “We want to see growth in all age groups. We might start with putting more high-school and college-age content online, which would drive them to the print edition.”