The steep decline in advertising sales at many newspapers has pushed them to expand and sustain subscription revenue. Northwestern University aims to help news publishers in those efforts with a
software tool to benchmark their performance among key digital metrics.
The Medill Subscriber
Engagement Index,named for the university’s school of journalism, media and integrated marketing communications, measures the behavior of digital-only subscribers, according to a blog post.
Its indicators include subscribers added and lost, retention rate, average monthly web visits and type of device to view the site.
The data was gathered from 44 newspapers throughout the
United States. By early next year, 100 newsrooms are expected to use the tool as standardize their subscription data to more comparable.
The participating newsrooms vary in
size, ranging from big city papers like the Chicago Tribune and Miami Herald, mid-size publications, including the Idaho Statesman and Allentown Morning Call in
Pennsylvania and smaller outlets, such as the Cedar Rapids Gazette in Iowa and the Belleville News-Democrat in Illinois.
The index doesn’t include
readers with a hybrid subscription to a print and digital format, because they tend to visit a new site less frequently. Medill is offering participation in the index for free, while leaving open the
possibility that it will charge a fee to use the data.
Publishers can harness the data to develop new products, such as subscriptions to customized packages of news and
information. They also can run different scenarios with the index’s “What If” tool, which shows how changes in reader engagement affect financial results.
Ideally, the index will help participating news publishers to hone their digital subscription strategies. As newspapers become digital “walled gardens” of first-party consumer data,
comparing their performance with other outlets is becoming more essential.