AJC.com Editorial Director Explains Decision to Kill Paid Sports Site

By: Jay DeFoore

It wasn’t for a lack of subscribers that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution decided to discontinue its paid sports product, ajcsportsPlus. According to Hyde Post, editorial director of AJC.com, a shift in strategy towards behavioral-targeted advertising was the impetus for releasing the paid content back into the free section of the Web site.

“We aimed to get 3,000 [subscribers] through the first season and we beat that,” Post told E&P. “But it wasn’t growing as fast as we wanted it to.”

The Cox-owned paper has partnered with Tacoda Systems to deliver behavioral-targeted advertising across the site, and Post said the sports fan is a valuable demographic advertisers wanted to reach.

“The ability to leverage that sports audience on the advertising side using behavioral-targeting made that audience more valuable as a free, advertising-supported content model,” Post said.

But the AJC.com is not giving up on the online subscription model altogether; Post said the paper has recently begun selling a historical archive product online.

A number of other issues contributed to the decision to discontinue ajcsportsPlus. Post said the advertising inventory on the AJC.com Web site is “closer to sell-out on other channels than we were before” the launch of ajcsportsPlus, so more inventory was needed. Post also said that staff blogs, which were originally launched in the paid section, are expanding. Post said making all the blogs free prevented the “awkwardness” of having some paid and some free.

As for the forthcoming “significant enhancements” to its sports Web site that were promised in the announcement of ajcsportsPlus’ closing, Post said they will be rolled out incrementally. Among the new features will be exclusive video and post-game audio, more blogs — including some written by fans — and the AJC 25, a raking of the top college football teams as chosen by AJC.com readers.

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