The Toronto Star has been chosen as the only Canadian partner of a Google-backed research project studying successful online news subscriptions.
“We are proud to be the only Canadian news organization to take part in this new project,” said John Boynton, president and CEO of Torstar Corp. and publisher of the Star. “We look forward to collaborating with our peers so that we can all develop a strong and sustainable future for journalism.”
The GNI Digital Subscriptions Lab is a six-month project bringing together Google, the Local Media Association (LMA) and Washington, D.C.-based FTI Consulting to look at successful digital subscription models across North America.
“I know from experience that growing digital consumer revenue isn’t as simple as putting up a paywall,” said Ben Monnie, Google’s director of global partnerships solutions, news and publishing.
“It requires a deep organization transformation at all levels of the organizations, from the newsroom to the marketing department to the product and technology teams. We started this program to go deep with a group of partners to accelerate this transformation and, with FTI Consulting and the LMA, scale it to the rest of the industry, one publisher at a time.”
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The Star is one of 10 publications — the sole Canadian one — picked to take part in the project, out of 21 applicants. Among the U.S. publications taking part are the Houston Chronicle, Baltimore Sun and the Buffalo News.
The group consists of small, medium and large publishers.
“We invited 21 newspapers that were having success with digital subscriptions to apply for this unique opportunity,” said LMA President Nancy Lane. “We were impressed by the letters from their CEOs and the work going on at these companies. In the end, the judges chose 10 that came with a willingness to experiment and a commitment from the highest levels in their company. We’re excited to work with this cohort on strategies that can change the trajectory of the newspaper industry.”
Judges looked for newspapers that were growing their digital subscription business and were ready to fast track it to the next level. The Star launched its digital subscription service last fall.
FTI will perform a full diagnostics evaluation of each participating publisher across multiple dimensions — people, process, technology, marketing and content. The consulting firm will benchmark current performance, identify short-term optimization opportunities and recommend longer-term transformation road maps. This includes providing a detailed scorecard to show how each publisher sizes up and a dashboard for measuring ongoing progress.
Google teams bring expertise in data, strategy, technology, product and marketing.
LMA will help participating publishers benchmark their progress and share key lessons learned and best practices. These insights will then be shared with the industry at large. A three-hour workshop Sept. 18 at Elevate, which LMA hosts with the Local Media Consortium, will feature the top recommendations and lessons learned.
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The GNI Digital Subscriptions project is the second major digital initiative announced by the Star this spring. Last week, the Star announced it will be part of Apple’s premium news subscription service, Apple News +.
Hundreds of newspapers and magazines will be part of the offering, which will be available to users of iPhones, iPads and Apple computers. Apple will split revenues with publishers, although no official details were released.
Josh Rubin is a Toronto-based business reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @starbeer