The offices of the Sacramento Bee, a McClatchy newspaper. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

McClatchy will put its paywall back up around some coronavirus news as it aims to balance its duty keep people informed with its need to bolster subscriptions, executives tell Axios.

Why it matters: The company is trying to be strategic about how much they allow to be free. While it's important that some information remains free, like breaking news that could impact the health and safety of their readers, they don't want that free information to cannibalize a surge in subscription interest.

  • "With a lower paywall we're missing opportunities to convert drive-by readers into subscribers," says McClatchy's Vice President of News Kristin Roberts.
  • As the story begins its slow shift from breaking news and utility journalism, Roberts says McClatchy's paywall strategy will change.
  • Decisions over which articles to put in front of the paywall will be made locally by editors at each of its 30 local publications nationwide.

By the numbers: In a memo to staff, Roberts says that while subscriptions are rising, "the money we get every time someone reads or watches an individual story (“programmatic” revenue) is declining, rapidly -- that per-view rate of revenue has dropped more than 15% in a single week."

  • In total, the company has gained 10,200 new subscriptions in March, even with the paywall down. And subscriber pageviews are up 46% in March.
  • "Since our coronavirus coverage began, 13% of views were by people who would have been stopped by the paywall if it had been up. If we converted even a tiny fraction of those people, we would have generated more in subscription revenue than we are earning on the per-pageview (“programmatic”) revenue."

Be smart: McClatchy's news division has experienced consolidation over the past few years, and has been very disciplined about operating expenses. For now, the news division seems stable despite the crises unfolding around it within the news industry and despite the company's recent history filing for bankruptcy.

  • "So much has been done up to this point to set ourselves up to be in a place to not topple over when the first wind blows," says Roberts.
  • Roberts argues that the company's focus on balancing its income between audience (subscriptions) and advertising has been critical in preparing for this moment.

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