To Register or Not to Register

The debate over requiring users to register for access to news content rages on in the online news world. On the one hand, it can inhibit traffic by erecting a barrier for users to get content, and traffic is important for attracting advertisers. (Editor & Publisher columnist Steve Outing has some interesting thoughts on this.) On the other hand, the information gained in the registration process can be valuable in targeting users for advertisers and can actually drive traffic through opt-in e-mail newsletters. (Caroline Little, CEO and publisher of Washington Post.Newsweek Interactive expressed her thoughts on this at TKG’s recent ILM:05 conference.)

Some fodder for this debate recently emerged, as reported by Paid Content:

Longtime proponents of registration, the New York Times Company, has seen registration work well for NYTimes.com. Now their own Boston.com has reported more than one million registered users since the registration was put in place nine months ago. True, there is no way of knowing if the site traffic would be significantly greater if a registration barrier were not in place, but the site has been able to acquire valuable user data (i.e. 67 percent of users reside in New England, 54 percent are 25-44, and 29 percent have a household income greater than $100,000). The company has also announced that it is getting about 25 percent over the rate card for the behavioral and demographic targeted advertising that this data enables. Next the company plans on launching a Boston.com subscription service for premium content a la TimesSelect.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Star’s TheStar.com removed its main site registration on Nov. 28 (although it still collects personal information for access to some parts of the site).

"We believe that in order to be competitive in the online news and information space, growth of both audience and page impressions will be the cornerstone of our success, Publisher Michael Goldbloom told PaidContent. We believe that the key to that growth is through the removal of all barriers, including registration."

The bottom line is that there isn’t an answer to the debate. If there is an answer, it is that €œit depends. Newspaper Web sites have to figure out what their advertising sales strategy is, who their users are, how savvy they are, and what their threshold for filling out personal information is. These factors will go a long way in devising the best site access strategy.

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