Sporting News Explains New Pay Model

Sporting News, which has offered its online digital edition, Sporting News Today, to subscribers free since its launch in July 2008, switched to a paid subscription model and new online platform through digital editions provider Zinio on April 1. For $2.99 a month, users get access to Zinio’s “Unity” platform, allowing readers to read the publication across a range of e-reader, mobile and Web devices.

Publishing Executive interviewed Jeff Price, president/publisher of Sporting News Magazine/Sporting News Today, on the impact of the move on readers and advertisers, the publisher’s long-range plans, and the fortuitous decision to launch the new digital edition three days before the launch of the iPad.

INBOX: Why is now a good time to switch to a pay model?
JEFF PRICE: We started the research well back in the end of 2009, doing a bunch of price and sensitivity testing to determine the value proposition of the original content package. We came to the conclusion we were going to make the move and identified the [digital edition] partner we would work with for the long term, not only as we think about Sporting News in its current form, but also as we build a scalable business model [around e-readers], build something enaging for sports fans and build the brands.

We made the decision to go [live] April 1 not knowing the iPad would be launching April 3. … We wanted to aggressively go to multiple devices and multiple platforms, and create a business partnership with Zinio to optimize various devices [and] screens. That’s why we decided to make the switch today.

INBOX: Will Sporting News Today be available on the iPad right off the bat?
PRICE: As soon as Zinio’s app and reader is on the iPad we will be available on there –not necessarily the first day. We will follow this with a dedicated Sporting News Today app that will [have] … multimedia photo galleries [and] touch functionalities. Our goal is to create the best sports morning wake-up call available. We’re targeting June for that launch.

INBOX: What metrics have led you to believe this can succeed? Do you believe the existing audience for the digital product is more likely to pay for your content than Web audiences generally?
PRICE: We recognize some of our folks that have been free will fall by the wayside. We appreciate their support [up to now], but are focused on folks willing to pay for that experience. As we come out on more devices it will prove the value equation is more than fair.

We did a lot of price sensitivity testing to optimize the opportunity to make something that works for readers. We expect to retain 15 to 35 percent of our audience. We hope it’s higher and have aggressively targeted groups we think will adopt the e-reader. People are willing to pay for content on the iPhone and on the Web … we think they will be willing to pay dime a day to get comprehensive sports news.

INBOX: What are your advertisers’ expectations for the change, and how do you pitch the advantages of the new model to them?
PRICE: From an advertiser perspective, the new benefits will be the interactivity we can offer through e-reader devices such as the iPad. … There’s [also] an added value component for those [advertisers] interested in gleaning insights on e-reader devices. Once we get to a number the marketplace has told us [we can attract]–when we get back to 250,000 subscribers becoming paid readers not tied to the [print] magazine, we want to be ready to take advantage of that.