GWADS Best of Best

2020 Award Submissions
Digital Subscriber Growth

1st Place Winner

Albuquerque Journal

City: Albuquerque
Daily audited circulation size: 71,539 “2019 AAM Audit Report”
Sunday audited circulation size: 125,122 “2019 AAM Audit Report”


Our objective was to drive more subscriptions through added friction and increased asks to subscribe. Our website is currently set up as a freemium model, allowing visitors to read all content free with minimal friction in the form of a survey question that is served by google to a select number of visitors.

We estimated that from the 1.2 million visitors per month, we had 200,000 non-subscribing visitors that would visit our website to read content multiple times per month. Of that traffic, our goal was to convert 1% or 2,000 visitors into paid subscribers.


We decided to implement multiple changes on our website – not just focus on one magic bullet. Our first change was to mimic a paywall by serving up a subscription offer squeeze page to a percentage of our web traffic that were identified as non-subscribers. This squeeze page would pop-up as readers clicked on a story. The pop-up was set up so that 70% of the recipients would be served the pop-up without a close option resulting in the only selection being the subscription page. The other 30% were given the option to close the window, login, or subscribe.

Our second change was to update our subscription offer on the header of our site. We outlined the subscription offer with a 1-pixel box that we had change colors each time someone visited the site. We did this to draw attention to the button/offer. You could visit the site and see a green button and then on your next visit see a white button, and so on.

Our third change was a combination of several different changes. We added subscription offers to other areas throughout the website including at end of stories, ad widgets, and a new ad spot under the header that was created so it displays on mobile.


Although some of our results are skewed due to the increase in traffic from COVID, we realized a 140% year over year increase in our digital subscriptions and can attribute that increase to this initiative.
We don't feel that any of the changes we made, looked at individually, have been terribly unique. Other publishers have probably made similar changes. Although, the fact that we adopted the approach of implementing and planning multiple changes – not just focusing on one magic bullet, is worth highlighting. I think this multi-pronged strategy is the reason we have seen sustained growth rather than a Covid-19 spike and then a return to the status quo.

2nd Place Winner

The Spokesman-Review

City: Spokane, WA
Daily audited circulation size: 46,892
Sunday audited circulation size: 65,483


Grow The Spokesman-Review’s digital subscriber base through a targeted campaign with the overarching message of ‘Support Local Journalism’ and the goal of connecting the audience to the reporters and editors that create the content.


The campaign was pushed across several marketing channels.

Created a 7-part email series highlighting specific journalists. This email series was targeted towards website users identified by Mather Listener data as having a primary content preference of Pacific Northwest news.


  • Website ads were created to reinforce the ‘Support Local Journalists’ campaign message. These ads showcased the journalists in our newsroom.
  • In partnership with the newsroom, a ‘Support Local Journalism’ webpage was created to explain the importance of local journalism, as well as solicit for subscriptions and donations. Journalists used their personal social media platforms to link to this page.

Social Media

  • Graphics were created by the newsroom to highlight journalists and provide “reasons” to support the newspaper. These graphics were shared on Facebook with a link back to the ‘Support Local Journalism’ page.
  • A targeted social media campaign was launched targeting Pacific Northwest Content Users with similar graphics.


  • Paywall verbiage was changed to reflect support of local journalism instead of access to local stories.
  • Paywall “last free article” pop-out recreated with addition “Reason to subscribe” graphics


Users with Pacific Northwest content preference converted via email at 4%. Average email conversion rate is typically 0.11%. Non-Pacific NW conversion rate for this campaign was 0.51%.

Paywall elements that were altered had increased conversion rate of 1.8%.

Added 300 new digital subscriptions in 60 days (appoximately 5% digital growth).

3rd Place Winner

Las Vegas Review-Journal

City: Las Vegas, NV
Daily audited circulation size: 67,347
Sunday audited circulation size: 86,038


Grow total subscriber count by focusing on Sunday print sales and growing digital subscriber base.



  • Initiatives
    • Email marketing
    • Converting digital users to Sunday only print subscribers at checkout
  • Hurdles YTD vs last year:
    • Telemarketing -31% decrease in starts
    • Kiosk/Events –55% decrease in starts
  • Successes YTD vs last year:
    • 60% more sales via email over same time frame from last year with a focus on 99¢/week Sunday and 50¢/week Sunday for special sales and during pandemic
    • 42% more upsells of digital to Sunday only at checkout
    • 33% increase in website user’s selecting print at checkout


  • Initiatives
    • Price testing
    • Including digital subscriptions on all offers at checkout–email, direct mail, FSI
    • Implemented dynamic paywall feature for most engaged users
    • Personalized paywall journey so users see subscribe call to actions that correlate with what they are reading multiple times throughout their journey
    • Created Vegas Nation journey to highlight our Raiders coverage
  • Successes YTD vs last year:
    • 55% more starts
    • Conversion rate up 45%
      • Price testing produced 98% more period starts per week over nine-week period than previous nine weeks
    • Digital subscriber net gain is up 47%


Subscriber counts compared to this point last year

  • YoY total subscriber growth of 3%
  • Active digital subs are up 86% YoY
  • Sunday number is down only 4.28% YoY

Audience initiatives and metrics that helped support our success:

  • Five key audience verticals defined to support audience engagement – Politics, Raiders, Business, Casinos/Gaming, and Entertainment
    • Page views up 99%
    • Repeat visitors up 34%
    • Unique users up 67
    • Search users up 87%
    • Social users up 39%
    • Direct users up 45%

Bay Area News Group

City: San Jose, CA
Daily audited circulation size: 279,875
Sunday audited circulation size: 441,270


Offset YOY Print Losses with digital gains to reach crossover (more combined paid subscribers than the year prior).


We established bi-weekly meetings of News, Marketing and Audience Directors, and key staff to focus on paywall and email actions & results for digital and print subscribers. We shared a 12-week running graph of our progress to the team and periodically company-wide.


Solid progress toward our goal in 1999. We shrunk our YOY total subscriber deficit by almost half and went on to achieve crossover for both our daily and Sunday paid subscribers by May of 2020 and by June for daily subscribers.

The Press Democrat

City: Santa Rosa, CA
Daily audited circulation size: 45,023
Sunday audited circulation size: 51,483


Leverage technology to increase subscription acquisition through our paywall platform.


Move from a homegrown paywall platform to MG2 and utilize our Mather segmentation data in that new platform by using an Intelligent Paywall.


Launched MG2 in November 2019 and as of June 15, we have increased our number of digital subscriptions by 36.8%.

Sacramento Bee

City: Sacramento, CA
Daily audited circulation size: 95,274
Sunday audited circulation size: 161,434


To grow digital subscriptions and revenue for The Sacramento Bee through a specific partnership between digital audience and news.


Drive digital subscription growth by providing our reporters the opportunity to make call-to-actions to subscribe across their social platforms, where many have a large and loyal following. To achieve this, Digital Audience armed each individual journalist with a unique and trackable subscription offer. In partnership, we established best practices for these call-to-actions including recommendations for when to post, how often to post, and messaging. We also targeted audiences with email campaigns in the format of “letters from the reporter” where highlighted reporters documented their personal experiences in journalism and with McClatchy and with that, included calls-to-action to subscribe and support journalism.


Though results were limited to just 0.13% of total digital subscription growth in 2019, the efforts continue to grow in the partnership between news and digital audience. We continue to iterate and test offers, messaging, and posting frequency as it correlates to responsiveness and action by potential new subscribers.

The Seattle Times

City: Seattle, WA
Daily audited circulation size: 197,000 including digital
Sunday audited circulation size: 247,000 including digital


Capitalize on traffic due to world events.


We put all of our Coronavirus coverage in front of the pay wall to drive engagement and to serve our mission statement. We also shortened the paywall on non-Covid articles so that customers would hit the paywall almost immediately. Customers were then served up an offer to subscribe. We discontinued offering deeply discounted offers, but instead let the content sell itself. We then served up offers as customer became more digitally engaged.


Over the last 4 months, we have seen an increase of over 4 times our normal digital starts per month (400 to 1600).


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