Shawnee Mission Post’s State of the Site 2018: Reader support leads to stability, growth

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Well, dear readers, it’s the first week of 2018, which means it’s time for our annual look back at the past year and forward to the year to come.

As we told you all (quite trepidatiously) early last spring, after nearly seven years of running the site on essentially an ad-only model, we made the difficult decision to put up a paywall and start charging a subscription fee for full access to the site in April. We had absolutely no idea how it was going to go — but it’s fair to say that we’ve been completely overwhelmed by the positive response.

To make the site financially viable, we needed to sign up 1,000 subscribers within the first 12 months. We got to that milestone in just three-and-a-half. And, much to our surprise and delight, we hit the 1,500 subscriber mark the last week of 2017.

The success of our subscription model has even attracted national attention. Harvard’s Nieman Lab featured our story in August. And just last month we made Traffic Magazine:

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(If you’re interested in hearing more about the decision to transition to the subscription model and how it’s played out, we discussed it with Central Standard’s Gina Kaufmann in some detail last month).

A few thoughts on all this:

  • First of all: THANK YOU to everyone who has seen enough value in a news source wholly dedicated to the Shawnee Mission area that you’ve been willing to invest in the site and help us keep sending reporters to school boards, city councils and planning commissions.
  • One of the best things about the subscription model is that it’s totally recalibrated our incentives. With an ad-only business model, publishers are driven to produce stories that generate the most clicks for the least amount of effort. So, in our case, that meant a drift toward quick pieces about cars driving into wet concrete and other such nonsense. With the paywall, however, we found that we have a clear financial incentive to produce more substantive coverage. When we run stories about vital civic issues, like school boundaries or major new development projects, we see a wave of new subscribers. So we’ve been able to shift our coverage mix toward the kinds of issues that really affect people’s day-to-day lives.
  • The resources readers have invested in us have allowed us to continue to expand our coverage of Shawnee Mission area civic institutions. In the last several months, we’ve been able to start working coverage of Lenexa and Shawnee city halls into the mix, as well as to focus on schools in the SM South, SM West and SM Northwest areas that we hadn’t been able to cover before.
  • What’s more, the paywall has had negligible impact on total readership. We thought we might see a dip of about 10 percent in traffic once it went live, but we saw small increases in both total traffic (2,503,597 pageviews in 2017 compared to 2,435,945 pageviews in 2016) and average monthly uniques (69,950 in 2017 compared to 68,201 in 2016) this year.

As we head into 2018, we plan to produce more coverage for the neighborhoods west of I-35 while maintaining the level of coverage we provide in our initial northeast Johnson County footprint. (This means we’ll be looking to hire a full time reporter to produce more robust coverage of the Lenexa and Shawnee areas). But we’re always looking for reader input, so if you’ve got suggestions about areas you’d like to see get more attention, please don’t hesitate to let us know.

Thanks again to you all for reading and subscribing!