State of the Site 2022: Record readership, nearly 5,500 subscribers — and an expansion into Blue Valley

Shawnee Mission general election forum 2021

Our readers consistently say they use our yearly election coverage to inform their choices at the ballot box. Last year, we covered three local school board contests and held forums for each, including for contests for multiple seats on the Shawnee Mission school board, above. File image.

You’ve likely heard rumblings about the continuing decay of the local news industry. 60 Minutes is even set to air a piece on the subject this weekend.

Hedge funds have bought up some of the most prominent legacy news operations in the country and are squeezing them for profit. The number of people employed as reporters and editors continues to shrink. Fewer and fewer communities have their own local publication.

These are concerning trends, to be sure — but not ones Johnson County appears likely to follow.

As difficult as the past year was on so many fronts, we have been continually heartened by the growing support the community has shown for our efforts to bring truly local coverage to the most populous and dynamic county in the state of Kansas.

With record traffic and significant growth in our subscriber base, we were able to hire three new full time editorial employees in 2021, bringing our newsroom staff to six. That’s the largest news gathering team any publication has had dedicated to Johnson County in more than a decade — and we intend to continue to grow!

You may have noticed, but we have also recently begun an expansion into southern Johnson County, launching the Blue Valley Post just before the start of the new year.

We intend to offer readers in this rapidly growing part of Johnson County, comprised primarily of south Overland Park and Leawood, the same hyperlocal coverage readers in the Shawnee Mission area have grown to appreciate over the past decade. (More on that below.)

Because we think it’s important for the community that’s invested in us to know how things are looking for our operation, we provide a “State of the Site” update each January recapping the major developments in the progress of the Post over the previous year.

Below, you’ll find updates on the growth of our readership and subscriptions, the launch of the Blue Valley Post and our ongoing commitment to helping voters find the candidates who best reflect their views.

Readership and traffic growth

Under the leadership of Editor Kyle Palmer, we’ve continued to hone our editorial product, working to produce truly local coverage that’s meaningful, relevant and actionable for Johnson County residents. The success of our team’s efforts on this front are born out by the numbers.

In 2021, we saw double-digit growth across all key metrics, logging more than 2 million annual users and more than five million annual pageviews for the first time.

You can see the graphic tracking monthly users as well as year-to-year traffic growth for 2020 and 2021 below:

Subscriber growth

We also added more subscribers in 2021 than any previous year. We now have nearly 5,500 paying subscribers supporting the site. The graph below shows total subscription growth by year (each pink dot is the start of a new year):

What’s more, we continued to retain subscribers at rates significantly higher than peer publications. The average “churn rate” — a measure of the proportion of subscribers who stop subscribing in the course of a month — for online news publications is 3-4%. Our churn rate in 2021 was 1.5%.

Revenue mix continues to shift toward subscriptions

As we’ve seen subscription numbers continue to grow, we’ve become less reliant on advertising and sponsorship dollars to fund our editorial work. In 2017, the year we moved to the subscription business model, subscriptions made up less than one-third of total revenue. Five years later, they now account for nearly two-thirds of total revenue.

This is important because having our revenue prospects closely tied to the perceived value and quality of our reporting incentivizes us to focus on earning and maintaining the community’s trust — not just to pursue more and more traffic.

The success of our subscription model has allowed us to focus on community, not clickbait.

But we’d be remiss if we didn’t recognize the significant support we get from our premier sponsors:

These organizations — and dozens of others in Johnson County — fund a significant portion of our editorial budget through their sponsorships. This allows us to keep subscription prices well below those of other online publications. (Our currently subscription rates are $7/month or $77/year. The Kansas City Star’s digital subscription price is $15.99/month or $159.99/year).

Helping voters find the candidates who share their views

Nearly 250 people attended the forum we organized for the Overland Park mayoral candidates ahead of the August primary. Photo credit Jay Senter.

In 2021, we continued our commitment to producing local election coverage designed to help voters find the candidates who best represent their views.

Using the “Citizens Agenda” model as our guide, we hosted candidate forums for 14 races across Johnson County — from the closely watched school board races in Blue Valley, Shawnee Mission and USD 232 (De Soto) to city council races in Mission and Shawnee. We also fielded written questionnaires to nearly 100 candidates.

All of the questions we asked the candidates came from readers responding to our call-for-input prompt: “What do you want local candidates to talk about as they compete for your votes?”

We continued to hear from readers that the election primer posts we put together based on the candidates’ responses in our forums and questionnaires — which we make available to all readers, not just paid subscribers — are excellent tools in helping them make informed choices at the polls, especially on less prominent “down ballot” type races. In fact, our primer in the JCCC Board of Trustees election was one of our most-read posts of the year.

Organizing these efforts is extremely labor intensive — and was made all the more complex this year by the need to work with COVID-19 mitigation procedures. Our editorial team did a spectacular job facilitating this vital communication between candidates and voters.

We’ll be back at it again this summer and fall for the statehouse races. If you appreciate these efforts, we hope you’ll consider supporting our work by become a subscriber.

Expanding to the south with the Blue Valley Post

Ice skaters on the move last week at Park Place in Leawood, one of the many commercial centers in our new Blue Valley Post coverage area. Photo credit Leah Wankum.

For years, residents of southern Johnson County have been asking when we’ll be expanding our coverage to their community.

We’re excited to announce that, as of this month, that day has arrived: The Blue Valley Post is officially up and running.

The new site offers the same mix of truly local coverage for the Blue Valley area that has made our original site in Shawnee Mission such a success, including:

  • The Blue Valley School District
  • City government in Overland Park and Leawood
  • Commercial development and retail for shopping centers like Town Center, Park Place, Rosana Square, BluHawk and Corbin Park.

Note: A subscription to either the Shawnee Mission Post or the Blue Valley Post grants subscribers full-access to all new and archived content on both sites.

If you’ve already got a subscription, you now have full access to both sites. You also have the option of receiving any of the premium email newsletters we produce for both Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission.

On behalf of the entire Shawnee Mission Post and Blue Valley Post team, thank you, Johnson County, for your remarkable support in 2021!