In 2005, the National Catholic Register was faced with a problem. While it was a leading Catholic national weekly newspaper, its presence on the web was almost non-existent. The NCRegister.com website was unattractive and dysfunctional. Very little archived content from the print edition was available on the site. No fresh, web-only content was published, ever. And there was no mechanism in place to manage site access for paid subscribers. The cause of the problem was that the staff was overloaded, and there was no one dedicated to guiding website development in a coherent direction.
To solve the problem, the newspaper’s management outsourced website development to Transmodern Media. TMM worked with the publication’s department heads – editor, art director, ad director, circulation director – to establish a web strategy, and a plan to build a state-of the-art website.
TMM skipped the usual comprehensive discovery process. From prior publishing consulting projects, TMM’s principal, Angelo Matera, was already very familiar with the Register’s editorial philosophy, business operations, and position in the marketplace. Instead, he focused on conducting a thorough review of best practices from leading secular newspapers and magazines, and finding the design format that best fit the Register’s limited schedule of weekly content updates from the print edition. The website’s framework was built on the powerful and highly flexible Expression Engine content management system, which would make design upgrades in the future easy to do.
An important question was how the website would affect the Register’s business revenue model. In the rush to upgrade the newspaper’s web presence there was some pressure to make the Register’s content available for free. The problem with this scenario was that the print publication generated millions of dollars in paid subscriptions and advertising. There was a great risk that giving away the paper’s content for free would cannibalize existing print revenue.
Based on this analysis, TMM counseled the Register to take an evolutionary—not revolutionary—approach to the web.
NCRegister.com 1.0 was launched in March 2006 with a pay wall that restricted access to the Register’s content to paid subscribers only, but also allowed editors to selectively open access to articles with breaking news value. This approach protected the print edition’s revenue, but allowed for the release of teaser content to attract web traffic.
Over the next year this strategy succeeded in increasing the Register’s web traffic, and the addition of more than ten years of archived content to the site—available only to subscribers—increased revenue from paid subscriptions.
In September 2008, the Register hired a dedicated news blogger, and NCRegister.com 2.0 was launched. It featured a new web-only Daily News Blog feature on the left side of the home page, alongside the print edition’s restricted content.
In 2009, inspired by a wave of innovative web publishers in the secular market, Transmodern Media took the Register’s home page in a new direction. NCRegister.com 3.0 featured a rotating roster of bloggers called “Voices” (inspired by The Atlantic Monthly’s blogger section), a large, variable format Daily News headline section for breaking news (inspired by The Huffington Post), and a news aggregator section (inspired by Real Clear Politics). These quickly became the most visited sections of the site, propelling NCRegister.com to new heights of web traffic, reader engagement, and online revenue.