The Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute is showcasing innovative ideas that were shared at the 2014 Walter B. Potter Sr. Conference for community newspapers. If you like ideas such as these, we encourage you to attend the 2016 Potter Conference, which will be held April 14 and 15 at RJI in Columbia, Missouri.

The Columbia Missourian is making money from its online readers and it's not using a paywall to do it. Instead, the newspaper is using Google Consumer Surveys.

Before readers can see an article, they must complete a survey -- if one is available. Publishers receive five cents for every completed survey. As a result of using Google surveys, the Missourian saw a 20 percent growth in its revenue earnings over the first 18 months, according to Bryan Chester, strategic communications manager at the Missourian. There is no cost to the publisher or consumer to use the service, he says.

Why Google surveys?

Before using Google Consumer Surveys, Missourian readers were given free access to published stories for 24 hours before content went behind a paywall. However, this made it difficult to share stories on social media and get much impact from these shares, says Chester.

“By the time we were getting enough social lift on our stories they were behind the paywall,” he says. “No one wanted to pay the $5.95 to access just one piece of content.”

The 24-hour pay model also left the Missourian with a drop in Web visitors, says Chester.

“After 18 months, memberships hit a plateau, and the revenue didn’t offset the deficits, namely reduced traffic to the website and costs affiliated with managing the system,” wrote Executive Editor Tom Warhover in a 2014 editorial to readers.

According to Chester, Google surveys can boost a publisher’s revenue even more when a story goes viral on social media because each visitor has to take a survey to access the story.

Google surveys and advertising

Google surveys don’t have a negative impact on online advertisements, says Chester. Although readers can’t see a story before they complete a survey, they can still see and be influenced by ads along the side of the Missourian’s site even if they choose to not take a survey.

“It doesn’t have any negative effect on your ad impressions if someone leaves and doesn’t want to complete the survey,” he says.

However, if people don’t wish to complete a survey, they have the option to sign up for a Missourian membership and pay a monthly fee to access stories.

The main drawback to the service, says Chester, is when Google runs out of surveys, which are conducted by market research firms only during certain times of the year.

Learn more about Google Consumer Surveys and if they’re an option for your newsroom.

Jennifer Nelson-Pallikkathayil  
Senior Information Specialist


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