Newspaper Survey Shows Online Subscriber Numbers for Democrat-Gazette, other Wehco Papers

After the jump, some top-level stats rounded up in survey by ITZ/Belden Interactive, out now and available here for purchase.

The survey, billed as the first of its kind, took a look at daily newspapers that have some kind of paywall around newspaper content. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, of course, is among newspapers in the country to put most of its content — and all of its daily print content — behind a wall to subscribers only.

First some random notes, then the full chart after the jump:

Online subscriber numbers – Back in May, we noted Mark Potts’ reporting of DG Publisher Walter Hussman’s comments at the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association. At the time, Hussman claimed, according to Potts, that the DG had signed up about 3,400 subscribers in about seven years of its locked-down model. The latest numbers from ITZ/Belden now put that number at about 3,500. Growth? It depends … on stuff we don’t know about!*

Other Wehco newspapers – This is first time I’ve seen any online subscriber numbers for other newspapers under the Wehco umbrella. According to the survey chart after the jump, the online sub numbers for DG sister papers are: El Dorado News-Times: 292; Camden News: 110; Banner-News: 89. (Wehco’s Hot Springs and Texarkana newspapers weren’t included in the report.) In terms of percentage of print readers subscribing to the online product, all those smaller papers perform better than the Democrat-Gazette, according to the chart.

That whole northwest alliance/joint venture thing – Probably isn’t reflected in this study, with the online news merger of the northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Stephens Media papers only taking place just recently.

Whey ITZ/Belden included these newspapers in their survey – I have no idea.

Now, on to What It All Means:

Alan Mutter, a newspaper consultant and blogger, says today’s survey offers good and bad news for newspaper publishers. The bad news is obvious: Few people are subscribing to newspapers online. The good news: They don’t seem to care how much they pay for it.

… [P]ublishers will be cheered to know there is “little to no correlation between price and uptake,” said Greg Harmon, the lead researcher for the project conducted in conjunction with the American Press Institute.

Even though the Newport (RI) Daily News charges $420 annually for online access [**], its 1.7% penetration rate is identical to that of the Colorado Springs (CO) Gazette, which charges web subscribers only $1 a year.

This suggests that publishers who start charging for access to their websites can ask pretty much anything they want. They evidently won’t get a lot of takers but that may not matter to publishers of small and medium papers facing scant competition in isolated markets.

Looks like the Democrat-Gazette, instead of only charging $5.95 per month for online access to its print editions, could totally charge more! Perhaps they should, since it seems most folks still won’t pay for newspaper news and those who do don’t seem to care what they pay, according to this study.

But of course, we know the DG’s paywall isn’t about monetizing the Web to make the digital transition as print dies. It’s about protecting the print edition. At all costs.

ITZ/Belden Interactive Survey of Newspapers and Online Paywalls

About 3,500 folks subscribe to the DG online, which equals about 1.9 percent of DG subscribers. Click here to see a bigger version of this chart.

* I don’t have $600 to plunk down on this full report, so I’m going off what limited information about it I’ve gleaned from blogs and this chart. Therefore, I don’t know what they’re basing these “online subscriber” numbers on, where exactly they got them or even what the definition of “online subs” is. So FYI.

** Some people dispute that number in Mutter’s comments section. But whatever. Point taken.

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