This weekend, visitors to our site probably noticed that there are ads for Cagle Post appearing on web sites everywhere – even on Facebook. What’s up with that?
We’ve been trying some new things since our partnership with msnbc.com was dissolved recently – trying some because we can now, and couldn’t before, and trying others things because we no longer have the income from our nice, former partners at msnbc.com so we’re forced to make some tough choices.
We’ve redesigned the site to optimize ad revenue and social networking; part of this change was putting many cartoons onto single pages so that we can have comments and permalinks with the cartoons. This change has resulted in better ad revenue and SEO, even though I, and many of our readers preferred multiple cartoons on the pages, multiple cartoons on a page is a lousy layout for SEO – and without our traffic-heavy partners at msnbc.com, we have to pay attention to SEO now.
Another thing we’re trying, which has bothered some of our readers, is a paywall. Everybody hates paywalls, and many of our readers tell me that all content on the web should be free – and until recently, our site has been totally free because msnbc.com wanted it that way.
I’d like to see paywalls work. As a content creator and syndicator, the idea that readers should pay a little for content is how I make a living, and advertising on the internet doesn’t pay much. If paywalls could work, it would be great for newspapers, magazines and cartoonists. I’m trying it because I’d like for it to work, but the jury is still out on paywalls. I remember the feedback from when I was with Slate.com, about when they tried a paywall – it worked, and they made more income, but their traffic fell to a tiny fraction of what it had been, and their underpaid writers were no longer interested in contributing for poor pay plus a poor audience. Slate gave up the paywall.
Most of our readers probably haven’t encountered our paywall, because most readers just look at the current cartoons, which don’t trigger the paywall. Right now, if you look at ten pages of archives, you’ll hit the paywall. We’re asking for a small payment as a “premium subscriber” to keep looking at our hundreds of thousands of cartoons in the database on cagle.com. We’ve chosen settings for the paywall that are very generous to the free content audience. The new way of looking at paywalls is to leave a generous amount of content available for free, and apply the paywall to only the most ardent fans who want to stay on the site for a long time.
We’re using Mediapass.com for our paywall. So far, they have been nice to work with. They are prodigious advertisers and, as our paywall partners, they have started advertising on our behalf. Their ads look for cookies in a user’s browser; if the user has visited Cagle.com in the past, it displays the ads for Cagle.com shown above, linking to our e-mail subscriptions page. We have one free daily e-mail newsletter and other newsletters for premium subscribers who can subscribe to individual cartoonist feeds as well as our special “premium” e-mail newsletter, and who, of-course, have unlimited access to the archives behind the paywall.
So, if you are reading this, you probably have cookies on your browser that bring up the Cagle post ads on lots of different sites, and Facebook. It may seen like we’re advertising everywhere – but we’re not, it just looks that way.
Hopefully we’ll stumble our way into finally finding a plan for making the Web work for us. Our little business still depends on print customers who have a tradition of paid content and of paying their bills, and the mortgages of cartoonists. That is a big difference between us and Slate; our cartoonists and columnists are with us because of our 850+ subscribing newspapers, and not because of our audience on the Web, so we can afford to lose some audience to the paywall, without losing our contributors, as Slate did. That said, so far we haven’t lost audience with our new paywall and layout changes, so I’m hopeful.
And I enjoy seeing the Cagle Post ads everywhere I go on the Web, even if it is only a cookie-driven illusion and everybody isn’t really seeing them.