Insider is restructuring its newsroom and recalibrating its approach to subscriptions. The company’s editor-in-chief Nich Carlson said in a memo to staff yesterday that around half the journalists whose output is currently paywalled on a regular basis would now have their content made available for free instead.
Editorial staffers at Insider told me that would result in approximately 25% of its reporters publishing subscriber-only content, and the rest publishing outside the paywall with a view to maximizing traffic, page impressions, and – of course – advertising revenue.
According to Carlson, the move was driven by the publisher’s desire to cover more stories that don’t necessarily drive subscription conversions, to focus its subscription product more deliberately around specific types of content, and to help alleviate concerns among reporters and editors about their ability to meet subscriber conversion goals the company had set them.
The change might be viewed as Insider “pulling back” on subscriptions and as an example of the limitations of subscription models. But for a publication like Insider that operates a robust ad business and caters to an extremely broad audience, I would interpret the move as more of a recalibration that, from the outside, makes sense for a variety of reasons:
Its editorial staffers have different skill sets
Some are capable of regularly producing highly-differentiated content that justifies its place behind a paywall, while others are better suited to producing content that appeals to a wider and potentially more casual readership. (Think: 42 rising stars of ad tech.) Heading into a tricky economic climate, it stands to reason that Insider would seek to better align its revenue model with its current newsroom capabilities and output.
Some content, subject areas and audiences lend themselves better to subscription monetization
As Carlson alluded to in his memo, some content simply doesn’t lend itself well to subscription models, and some readers are simply less likely to pay than others. For a broad-focused publisher like Insider, it makes sense to sharpen its subscription product to better meet the needs of a more specific segment of its readership rather than attempting to cater to its entire audience with a single product. As we’ve detailed previously, many publishers are gravitating to “freemium” subscription models largely for this reason, and others are unbundling broad subscription offerings and rolling out multiple products designed to serve the specific needs of more targeted audience segments.
Top-of-funnel traffic drives subscription growth
As their subscription initiatives mature, publishers such as Insider are developing a more robust understanding of their conversion funnels and subscribers’ paths to purchase. They’re also being forced to look beyond their current audiences in search of incremental subscriber growth. As a result, making more of its content available outside of its paywall could ultimately help grow its subscription business by developing a stronger pipeline of potential subscribers (and monetizing that pipeline via advertising.)
Subscription-related goals weren’t sitting well with reporters
174 members of the Insider union called for the company to rethink its approach to metrics last month. As one Insider reporter put it at the time, “There’s a deep disconnect between how top management thinks metrics drive coverage + how they actually drive coverage.” Insider reporters have griped for years about how metrics-driven incentives at the company distort its editorial product and place pressure on reporters to produce certain types of content over others, but those concerns escalated in recent years as the publisher has placed greater emphasis on driving subscription conversions rather than simply generating page views. Moving to place different groups of reporters clearly behind and in front of the paywall could alleviate reporter concerns and help mitigate the inevitable perverse incentives that subscriber conversion incentives for editorial teams create.