Pay up. News readers get that message more and more frequently these days, as big news sites tighten up their paywalls, allowing fewer free articles per month.
While The New York Times and The Washington Post, as well as The New Yorker and The Atlantic, have won the big Trump Bump digital subscription headlines in the first half of the year, the Los Angeles Times has quietly assumed the leadership in digital subscriptions among regional dailies.
Today, the Times can claim more than 105,000 digital subscriptions, as reader revenue assumes a much more potent role in the business model mix for the daily press. Advertising -- both print, down in double-digits, and digital, struggling against ever-tougher duopolistic domination by Alphabet Inc.'s Google ( GOOGL - Get Report) and Facebook Inc. ( FB - Get Report) -- remains in a world of hurt. It is reader revenue that offers the best hope to drive the news business forward.
At the Times, the gain has been impressive in the past year, exceeding even its parent Tronc Inc.'s (TRNC - Get Report) overall 89% year-over-year increase in digital-only subscriptions, to 220,000, through the second quarter. The LA Times is up 100% year-over-year, Mark Campbell, senior vice president of consumer revenue, told me this week.
How does the Times rank? The Boston Globe passed its own milestone on Monday, Sept. 18, reaching 90,000 paying digital only-subs, while the smaller-circulation Star Tribune of Minnesota's Twin Cities "closes in" on an impressive 50,000.
While all the regional numbers are well below the Times' 2 million and the Post's more than 800,000 digital news subscribers, their progress is notable. Digital disruption has greatly widened what had been a small-business potential gulf between national/global news operations, like the Times, Post, The Wall Street Journal and Financial Times, and city-based dailies. Those global publishers now fish for paying readers out of a pool of of potentials that is often five to 20 times wider in terms of monthly digital audience.
Tronc's Road to Digital Subscription Increase
Campbell came on board at Tronc -- then Tribune Publishing Co. -- at still another inflection point in its strange trajectory, in January 2016. He'd been brought in by Denise Warren, his former boss at The New York Times, who in turn had been brought in by then-CEO Jack Griffin. Warren and Campbell had been there at the creation -- of the Times' 2011-launched paywall that has served as a durable new digital pay model for publishers on both sides of the Atlantic for most of this decade.
Griffin's charge: Bring order to an unruly set of digital subscription processes and marketing that had grown organically among Tribune's then-nine mostly metro properties. Within six weeks of his arrival, though, Campbell got new direction. Investor Michael Ferro had swooped in, taken control of the company and ousted both Griffin and Warren, among others, and made his long-time associate Justin Dearborn the CEO.
Perhaps surprisingly, through all the turmoil that has characterized the company that became Tronc last year, Campbell has been able to install learned-from-experience systematic strategies and tactics that have helped Tronc catch up in the reader revenue game. Campbell himself credits the support of Ferro and Dearborn, atop the mandate given to him by his hiring bosses, for the year that's been.