State of the Site 2021: 4,000 subscribers (and growing!); high satisfaction, value scores

Kyle Palmer joined the company as the Shawnee Mission Post's top editor this summer.

It’s no secret that the past 12 months have been, shall we say, “challenging” on a number of fronts.

And while we’re (quite!) eager to put much of 2020 behind us, it’s a January tradition here at the Shawnee Mission Post to share an update on where we’ve been the past year and where we’re headed in the new one.

Indeed, as fraught as it may have been, our 10th year in business proved to be the biggest in the organization’s history.

4,000 subscribers and traffic growth of 70+%

2020 saw the site’s business model continue to shift toward a focus on subscription revenue over advertising, a development that allowed us to add reporting and editing resources to even more fully cover the community.

We saw more than 1,300 new paid subscribers come on board in 2020 — 62% more than in 2019 — and passed the 4,000 subscriber mark in December. We’ve got 4,258 subscribers as of this morning.

That growth allowed us to double the number of employees on staff. We hired Juliana Garcia as a staff reporter at the start of 2020. In March, Holly Cook joined us as deputy editor. And this summer we welcomed Kyle Palmer as the site’s new top editor.

Under Kyle’s leadership, the news operation has become even more responsive to our readers’ needs — and traffic and subscriber satisfaction have moved accordingly.

As far as total reach goes, we saw year-over-year traffic growth of 70-80% across all key metrics in 2020…:

…which is great! But we’ve made it a point not to focus on traffic for traffic’s sake. Because of our focus on reader revenue — which made up 56% of total revenue for 2020 — we pay keen attention to how satisfied our subscribers are with the product, and how they perceive the value they’re getting for what they pay ($6 a month or $65 a year. You can try a month for $1 to see if you like it.)

On those fronts, we seem to be doing pretty well. More than 660 paid subscribers responded to the survey we fielded in November. Respondents gave us a net satisfaction rating of 93% (64% of respondents said they were “very satisfied” with their subscriptions; 29% of respondents said they were “mostly satisfied”):

And the majority of subscribers said the were getting more value for their subscription than the price they were paying:

What’s more, our “churn rate” — a measure of how many current subscribers roll off the books every month — was less than 1%. The industry average is 5-7%.

That said, we’re always looking for feedback on what we could be doing better. So if you’ve got thoughts, suggestions, bitter complaints, unabashed praise, don’t hesitate to send feedback our way at feedback [at] shawneemissionpost.com.

Working to keep trustworthiness rating high in 2021

It’s no secret that “the media,” as a whole, is not regarded particularly well among a significant portion of the American public.

In fact, the results of Edelman’s most recent trust barometer, 56% of Americans agree with the statement “journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations” and 58% agree “most news organizations are more concerned with supporting an ideology or political position than with informing the public.”

These are very bad numbers! And ones we are determined not to have replicated at the local level!

As an organization that serves one of the few remaining “purple” counties in Kansas — particularly one that gets most of its revenue from subscribers — we’ve made it a priority to be as straightforward and transparent as possible. If people feel like we have some kind of political agenda or that they can’t trust the information we report, they’re not very likely to keep subscribing.

By and large, that internal culture seems to be translating to high perceptions of trustworthiness among our readers.

Among respondents to our fall survey who were not currently paid subscribers, we had a net trustworthiness rating of 83% (49% “almost always trustworthy”; 34% “mostly trustworthy):

Among paid subscribers, the net trustworthiness rating was even higher at 95% (69% “almost always trustworthy”; 26% “mostly trustworthy”):

Given the national figures referenced above, we’re pretty heartened to see those figures. But we know that we have to work to earn your trust every day — and that without demonstrating our credibility, we’re not going to be able to serve the community the way we want. If you’re interested in some of the thinking that’s influenced how we try to build trust, check out the Trusting News website here. Joy Mayer and Lynn Walsh’s trainings through that organization have been instrumental in informing how we approach our jobs each day.

We are so grateful to serve a community that values what we do enough to help us continue to grow and expand our coverage. Thank you, Shawnee Mission!