Clearing the air on our digital strategy

Clearing the air on our digital strategy

Sometimes you have to vent. A few weeks ago was that time for me, and as the comments came in and the questions about my sanity ensued, I realized that maybe not everyone knows the purpose of this blog or my intent.

In my post a few weeks ago, I used some lewd language and was fairly angry as I wrote a post about a paid news site giving away their content and assuming they are going to make money by selling advertising by the penny to visitors on their site.

This concept still enrages me and probably always will, but what I hope people take away from this blog is that it is for my views on things; sometimes that is to vent, and generally it is to other newspaper professionals who understand the industry.

For example, I don’t expect my grandmother to find my blog and get all of what I am talking about, as much of it is “inside baseball” stuff.

All that lead in is to say that our team doesn’t ignore digital. If you took that away from my post, then I apologize. That wasn’t my intent, and it certainly isn’t a good idea.

Ignoring digital is a fools game as you are reading this on a computer screen or mobile device and trying to figure out why you are wasting precious Candy Crush time on me.

Kansas Publishing Ventures doesn’t ignore digital at all. In fact, digital is an important part of our company’s structure, and I will explain our strategy below just to clarify for those interested.

Digitally, we break down our company in two main ways—free and paid—and then have variances beyond that.

Kansas Publishing Ventures owns and operates three paid papers, The Clarion, Newton Now, and The Herington Times, and a few free products, The Hillsboro Free Press (weekly newspaper), Harvey County Now (quarterly magazine), and The Edge (a monthly shopper).

I will explain our free strategy first, as it is fairly simple. If it is free in print, then make it free digitally. We see no issues with selling all sorts of digital advertising around content that we sold ROP around in print. We distribute our free products to a wide audience in print and that is how we sell the advertising, so we do the same digitally. Naturally, The Hillsboro Free Press has the most content free online in our company. The site makes a healthy margin and doesn’t cut into our print margins at all by my accounts, but again, it is a free newspaper already.

As for our paid papers, we are a little more on the outside of the industry here. If we charge for it in print, then we charge for it digitally in almost all cases. There are few exceptions to this rule, but very few, and our staff guards our paid content, as we believe the only thing we own and can market is that content. That means a hard paywall and beating on people to eventually pay for it. If they run across enough of our headlines and see enough conversation about our stories, eventually they will throw down the money for a subscription.

Everything we do with our paid papers is to get someone to buy a subscription, because we believe the only way for us to make any real money digitally is to charge for our content just like we do in print.

Digital advertising dollars are trending down—not in the amount spent but in the amount you can charge for it—which means while lots of big agencies are spending millions on digital advertising, you can’t get much of it, as most of it is going to sites that can provide billions of visitors and not thousands.

We see this as the core reason we don’t go after big ad dollars online. If you go to, you will see ads off to the side. They are non-intrusive just like print ads, and they are 99 percent of the time packaged with a print buy. Digital advertising to local people is simply an up-sell for us and not a large one, as anyone who gets our paid papers and has a login to the site also gets our printed edition.

I have already made my thoughts known on metered paywalls and things of that sort. While I know many 60-year-old folks aren’t going to go to the trouble of clicking on an incognito window or clearing their cookies, I am not going to make it easy for anyone to take the only thing we can market to folks, either, and doing either is pretty easy if you know how.

Simply, it is my belief that if you have a paid paper, the only thing you have is your content, and if you don’t guard that and sell it, then you have nothing. Free papers have reach, and that works well with digital, so you should sell reach. That isn’t to say that others don’t have differing strategies. I good friend of mine sold websites to newspapers and just gave an informative digital 101 class that I sat through. I would have bought a website from him if I didn’t know how to build them myself. He was always very knowledgeable and has sparred with me many times, giving great points always.

He stated that many papers can make 15-20 percent of overall revenue digitally. I am sure some people can do that but not without giving away their content at least to some extent, and we aren’t willing to take the only thing we own, our content, give it away to make 20 percent digitally, as we think that 20 percent would adversely affect what we do in print, which is 80 percent of revenue. With that said, not everyone is built the same, so there isn’t a one-size fits all model here.

Finally, I think there is room for free and paid content online, but I don’t think you should cross the streams too much (I love the Ghostbusters), especially if you are a small community paper with limited resources and little traffic to your site in the big picture of the entire Internet. If you charge for it, don’t give it away.

Sell local ads digitally, package them or don’t, but make what you can without cutting off your legs in print, and don’t put anything on Facebook without linking it to your site. They are enemy No. 1 and don’t you forget it. I will post later on Facebook, but this post isn’t the place.

If you would like to discuss more about our digital strategy (which works very well for us), I would be happy to give you more details. E-mail me at:

The only way we little guys stay in business with the monsters of Gatehouse out there is for us to stick together.

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