Today we increased the cost of a subscription to the newspaper, as well as our retail price for single copies.
|Previous||June 1, 2023 Onward|
|Retail single copy||$1.50||$2|
|Print Only Subscription||$43/year||$49/year|
|Online Only Subscription||$40/year||$45/year|
|Print + Online Subscription||$58/year||$65/year|
|Print Delivery Outside Wayne Co, Still in Indiana||+$5/year added||+$10/year added|
|Print Delivery Outside Indiana||+$10/year added||+$20/year added|
Here’s how we planned for and executed this change.
I put together a bunch of spreadsheets detailing all of our revenue lines, expenses and other relevant data. It provided some helpful insights into how much it costs to produce the newspaper every week, how much of that is covered subscription and advertising income, and how much more revenue we’d need to make to achieve certain financial goals.
We also had plenty of anecdotal evidence that a rate increase was long past due. People expressing shock at how low our prices are. People voluntarily mailing in more money than they owed for a renewal. People constantly asking us when we would charge more. And not just one or two of the same folks…lots of people from all over the community.
I brought the data to the staff and proposed a rate increase. We talked about the pros and cons of different kinds of changes, how they’d be received, and what they would mean for the paper moving forward.
There was unanimous support for better valuing what we do with increased prices, and so most of the discussion was about the implementation.
These conversations spanned several weeks to make sure we had time to reflect on questions or concerns that came up, and to help everyone be comfortable with the plan for rolling out the changes.
We also made a plan to help out subscribers who indicate the price increase is a financial hardship for them at renewal time. It’s not something we’re announcing widely, but we don’t want the increase to be a barrier for someone who is already enjoying the paper and for whom a few dollars is going to make a big difference.
Making the case
Although we didn’t feel like the increase would be a surprise for most people, we still wanted to take the opportunity to remind our subscribers and readers of the value we’re providing.
Over the course of a month we ran several house ads bringing attention to that value. I’ve blogged about them here already, but here are the visuals we included:
We heard great responses to these. In some cases they seemed to ramp up the public nudges to raise our rates, and in other cases people were surprised at what they learned and indicated that their appreciation for the paper had increased.
Announcing the change
Several weeks ago I put this publisher’s note in the print edition of the paper:
The cost of buying or subscribing to the Western Wayne News is going up, effective June 1, 2023. Our retail price will increase from $1.50 to $2 and our base subscription price will increase from $43 to $49. We are also increasing the add-on delivery fees for those who have the paper mailed outside the county or state, as well as our online and print/online combo prices; see page XX for details.
We hear often from readers that they think our current pricing is an incredible value, and we tend to agree with that view. In recent years, the cost of producing and distributing the paper has climbed steadily, and there’s currently no end in sight to that trend. For example, in just a few months the Postal Service plans to raise the postage rates that publications like ours pay by at least 8%.
We recently calculated that it costs us about $123 to provide an average print subscriber a paper for a year. When we mail the paper outside Wayne County, that price goes up further; in some cases a whopping $32/year of a subscription’s annual price goes toward postage alone!
And then there’s the people. Every edition of the WWN is lovingly crafted by our dedicated team of reporters, editors, designers and administrators, and we want to compensate that group well so they can provide for their own needs and stick around for a long time.
Obviously the rate change we’re announcing doesn’t begin to cover all of these gaps and goals, but it will put us a little closer to a path of financial sustainability grounded in the support of our subscribers and community. Advertising dollars will continue to be an important part of our ability to do what we do, but as much as possible we want our growth to be driven by you, the loyal reader who knows the inherent importance of having local news reported accurately by journalists who live in and care about Wayne County.
And let’s be clear, paying less than a dollar a week for a subscription to a paper packed full of stories, events, updates, photos, sports, sales, meeting coverage and so much more … well, it’s still an incredible value.
Thank you for reading, and thanks for your support.
The note was accompanied by a table breaking down the specific changes so folks could see the old and new pricing.
In the following issue we re-published the same information, in a slightly more condensed format.
We also published the upcoming change on our website’s subscribe page, using the same table format to illustrate the changes.
We debated sending out a blanket announcement to our email mailing list, but decided against it. The change isn’t actionable for most of our subscribers and readers, and because we’re not yet making regular use of email newsletters, we didn’t want the first time someone had heard from us in a while to be just about the cost of their subscription.
For the folks whose subscriptions would be auto-renewing soon, we included a note about the updated pricing in the reminder message they receive a few days before that renewal happens. For the folks who renew by mailing in checks, we just included the new price on the reminder postcard they receive.
Finally, we sent out a letter to our retail sales partners advising them of the change and asking them to make sure their point of sale systems, employees, etc. were set up to use the new pricing starting this month.
Making the change
We’d made a list of all the places that needed to be updated with the new pricing information, and so this week has been about making those.
- Signage at our office
- Our in-office point of sale system
- Our subscriber management system
- The main subscribe page of our website
- The product prices in our online store
- The shipping prices in our online store
- Bulk updates to all existing online store subscriptions
- Updated language on our metered paywall and elsewhere that we convey the value of subscribing
In some cases I’ve had to build a few custom software tools to help; for example there’s no easy way to do a bulk update of shipping rates for existing subscriptions in the online store tool we use, WooCommerce with WooCommerce Subscriptions. So now I have a WordPress plugin that does that for us.
In these early days, we haven’t had much of a response at all.
The most significant inbound communications have been people with active subscriptions wondering if they owe us more money to keep their subscription active. I wasn’t expecting that! I feel like it’s come to be understood that if a subscription service changes its pricing, you’re not impacted by that until your next renewal, but I guess that’s not the case for everyone.
But most people just casually mention that they’ve noticed we’re increasing our rates, if they say anything at all.
There have been a few grumbles. One person said they’d already been on the fence about renewing and the price increase pushed them to clarity that they would let their subscription expire. I’m sure that most of the concerns will be ones we don’t hear about, discussed in private circles or communicated passively through non-renewals. And that’s okay.
Overall I’m glad and relieved that we’re at this milestone.
It’s one that has been a long time coming since taking ownership of the paper last year. Even though I thought the rates were too low then, raising them would not have been a great community relations move among so much other change happening. Now that people can see eight months later that the paper has continued to be a valuable source of local news and information under new management, and that we’ve made some welcome improvements along the way, it felt like it was time.
Time will tell if there’s any noticeable impact on the steady demand we’ve seen for the newspaper. I’m not an expert on the economic forces of such things, but I suspect that if there is a reaction it will play out in subtle ways over time as opposed to any kind of dramatic change in active subscriptions.
For us as a business, the increase will help make our finances a bit more sustainable for the long run, and hopefully support future opportunities to hire, grow and expand in ways that continue to serve the community. Hopefully everyone else sees the value in that, too.