Newscoop 4 Cookbook

Subscriptions and revenue

Newscoop provides the means to manage access to content with subscriptions. A subscription means that parts of your publication are only visible to users who are registered and logged in. By default, subscriptions are disabled - and planning your publication is completely unaffected by this chapter. Just proceed and make your publication. If you change your mind, come back to this chapter later and activate the Newscoop subscription system without changing your publication structure or content. If, on the other hand, you came to Newscoop because it provides an in-built subscription system, by all means, read on.

Because of the ongoing difficulties news organizations face in bringing in revenue, many have turned to subscriptions as a way of making money for their content. There's been a lot of heated debate about subscriptions or "paywalls" around content, but it's important to note that subscription management has been part of the code base in Newscoop since 1999, and has represented a significant source of revenue for many media organizations.

It's also important to point out that subscriptions do not necessarily have to be paid. You may decide that your publication will require that visitors share certain demographic information in return for site access, or you may decide that certain areas of the site are for members only. Or perhaps membership is sponsored by an advertiser, who provides free site access in return for the opportunity to promote their product to subscribers.

Newscoop flexibly supports subscription models. This allows you to switch from free to paid services and back again. Users can register themselves on your publication. The payments made for subscriptions need to be handled by your staff and applied to user profiles. Newscoop currently does not support fully automated transactions, where, for example, a user signs up for a subscription, pays by credit card and then immediately has site access.

Access control for content and features

Newscoop provides a fine-grained way to manage content in relation to subscribers and non-subscribers. You can set content to be subscriber-only:

  • For all content in a publication
  • For all content in a specific section
  • For all content in a specific language
  • On an article-by-article basis
  • For an IP address range (useful when selling corporate subscriptions or to libraries)
If a reader ventures into an area on your site where they do not have access, you can manage in your templates what they will get to see - or what they will be able to do (like writing comments). Newscoop is very flexible in changing this access on the template level. In another chapter of this Cookbook, you will find the nitty-gritty of templating for subscriber pages. Also, below you will find details of how to administer subscriptions in the administration interface.

When preparing your publication's site map, it's a very good idea to map out which parts of the site - if any - will be visible to subscribers only. It's also important to try to figure out how much of each article you want to display to non-subscribers. According to these decisions you might also plan the fields in an article - there could be a part of the article which is only available to subscribers, like the phone number in classifieds, while everything else is available to all readers.

For our purposes as site implementers, here are some things to consider:

  • Is the entire publication for subscribers only?
  • Which sections are for subscribers only?
  • Which pages are free to non-subscribers? The front page? The section page?
  • How much of the article is free to non-subscribers?
  • What will your page "sorry, this page is for subscribers only" say, and how will it look?
  • What information will you require from your subscribers?

Once you do work out your site's subscription strategy, you should read the chapter about Subscriptions, registration and content access in this Cookbook for specific templating approaches.

Managing subscriptions in the admin interface

The list of subscribers is available in the Newscoop administration interface by clicking on Users in the main navigation menu, then Subscribers:

The subscription management interface includes a search tool which enables you to list readers according to several criteria, including subscription expiry date:

The duration of paid or trial subscriptions is determined by the default time periods set when you created the publication. (You can change these settings for your publication by clicking the Configure icon in the Publication list). During a trial period, the reader has a chance to make a payment, and consequently to have their subscription extended by an administrator.

The publication's administrator is automatically notified by e-mail of all new subscriptions. Subscribers also receive automatically generated e-mail reminders that their subscription will expire in two weeks. The text of the subscription expiry message is created in a Newscoop template. The default system template reads as follows:

"Dear <reader>,  This is an automatically generated e-mail message. Your <subs_type> subscription (started on <start_date>) to publication <publication> will expire on <date> (in <number> days).  Please enter the site http://<pub_site> to update subscription." 

This file is located in the system_templates folder and is named _subscription_notifier.tpl. It can and should be customized to best suit your needs and style.

IP address access

Publishers often sell corporate or institutional subscriptions, and Newscoop has support for these out of the box. Newscoop's IP based access feature can be used to automatically log in subscribers that have IP (Internet Protocol) addresses in a known range. This means that groups of readers with computers within that IP range do not need account names or passwords to access your subscription-only content.

To create an IP Address subscription, go to the subscriber management page in the administration interface, in the drop-down menu under Users -> Subscribers.

First, create a subscriber account by clicking on the 'Add new subscriber' link, next to the green plus sign icon. Enter an account name, a password, and a full name with an e-mail address and phone number for a contact at the subscribing group or institution. You do not need to inform individual readers using IP address access of the existence of this account name and password; it's only for the subscriber contact.

Once the new subscription account has been created, click on the Add new link in the User IP access list management table on the right hand side of the page.

The form allows the input of a range of consecutive IP addresses. If necessary, more ranges can be added later. The start IP address is the lowest address in the range, while the number of addresses sets the size of the range, including any address ending in zero. For example, if a university library had the range of IP addresses 198.51.100.0 to 198.51.100.63, then you would enter:

  • start IP address: 198.51.100.0
  • number of addresses: 64

It is not necessary to add anything to the Newscoop templates for IP based subscriptions to work.

It is also possible to search for subscribers based on known IP addresses. In the search box on the Subscriber management page, enter a number in at least one box in the field labelled IP address, starting on the left side. Click the Search button, and the page will display all subscribers that have known IP addresses which match that number (or numbers).

Advertising and Newscoop

The other side of the revenue equation for most online publishers is advertising. For this purpose, we recommend the robust and open source OpenX system http://www.openx.org

Ad insert codes - whether they are served from your own OpenX server, a banner ad display network or a service like Google AdWords - can be included in any template or sub-template, so you have complete flexibility in both placement and size.

You can also build your own templates to manage your banners. All three options are explored in greater detail in the chapter Working with advertising.