Case Studies

    How Bernie Niemeier and Virginia Business successfully launched a paid subscription strategy 

    Editor’s note: This story was adapted from our recent webinar and success story with Virginia Business. Quotes have been edited for length and clarity. Prefer video? Watch their success story below. 

    Over nearly four decades, Virginia Business had become the state’s source of business coverage and built a highly engaged audience of C-suite executives spanning the state’s most profitable industries. 

    In addition to their flagship print magazine, they have digital content, several newsletters, industry reports, and events in their portfolio. 

    Providing differentiated, business-oriented content for a passionate, niche audience meant that, relative to less established publications, they could charge a premium for their subscriptions. 

    But last year, Virginia Business was still free to all readers, funded primarily by ads. 

    Bernie Niemeier, its publisher and president, knew they were leaving money on the table by keeping the magazine free. He knew they had a product worth paying for.  

    And because they weren’t selling advertising on a CPM basis, they could handle losing traffic from less engaged users. 

    But as it often goes for regional publishers, they didn’t have the time, money or resources necessary to set up a paid subscription model on their own. 

    “We have 13 people. Our bandwidth for projects is not very high,” Niemeier says.  There was also internal resistance from editorial and sales staff who worried that paywalling content would harm traffic and turn away potential partners. 

    But ultimately, Niemeier knew that his team’s expertise was worth selling. And he was tired of giving it away for free. 

    “I said,’ We don’t want to be the only magazine company that’s giving our content away anymore,’” he said, referencing companies like The Washington Post, The New York Times that have successfully implemented their own paid strategies. 

    So they set about pivoting from free to paid. 

    Assembling the pieces of a paid subscription strategy

    Virginia Business spent more than two years steadily ramping up their tech stack to accommodate the demands of a paid subscription model. Here’s how that looked: 

    1. First, the team redesigned their website on WordPress, which took about a year.

    2. Around the beginning of 2023, they joined Omeda, an audience marketing solution that combines a customer data platform, email and marketing automation, and subscription management into one solution.

    At first, Virginia Business only used Omeda’s print fulfillment services. “The biggest driver for me coming to Omeda was to get a new platform for print fulfillment,” he says. “

    3. At this point, Virginia Business was using Constant Contact to send newsletters. But Constant Contact didn’t have the omni-channel marketing automation capabilities necessary to run the sophisticated, personalized campaigns they’d need to reach paid subscribers.

    Nor was it connected to the rest of their audience development, database or subscription tools. So they would need to manually upload their email records to their database, then add engagement data to audience profiles, before they could even update a subscriber’s profile, much less add them to a segment or run a renewal campaign for them.

    So they added Omeda’s email and CDP tools as well. Since they were already using Omeda for print fulfillment, they could easily send renewal reminders, win-back emails, and welcome series to those subscribers without needing to send lists back and forth between their email, database and fulfillment tools  — a big timesaver for a small team.

    “One of the things I sought to find my nickels and dimes to pay for things was to say,’ I’m paying a little bit of money to Constant Contact, and paying a little bit of money to this, a little bit of money to that…” Niemeier says.

    “I’ve always been fond of saying there are two budgets. There’s a money budget and there’s a time budget. The good news is you can get more money. The bad news is you can’t get more time.” 

    Put your money where your mouth is: Launching a successful paid subscription strategy 

    Once they had all the pieces in place, Virginia Business could launch their paid subscription strategy. Here’s how they did it: 

    1. They developed subscription forms for their site. Because they were using Omeda, each form submission automatically flowed to their database, email and marketing automation solution, and subscription management system. That meant each new subscriber was added to an audience segment for new subscribers, received an automated welcome series from Virginia Business, and was added to the print fulfillment list with minimal manual effort. 

    2. They created a meter that limited readers to two free articles per month. Next, they used Omeda to create a paywall, although Niemeier prefers the more approachable term of “welcome wall.” 

    “I think it was the publisher of AdWeek who said,’ I don’t call it a paywall, I call it a welcome wall,’” Niemeier says, referring to a speaker he heard at Omeda’s annual conference years prior. “And I thought,’ That’s such a fabulous idea because we all talk about  the fear of the paywall as if it’s some pejorative thing. And frankly, paywall doesn’t sound that friendly to me, or at least, it’s less welcoming than ‘welcome wall.’” 

    Niemeier says they experimented with the amount of free page views they offered each month. (They fluctuated between one and four, eventually settling at two.) 

    They also marketed their paid subscription specifically to their newsletter readers, knowing they were more likely to pay for a subscription long-term.  

    3. They targeted anonymous visitors with a reg wall. They quickly realized their anonymous audience was too small to generate enough ad impressions to sell on a cost-per-thousand basis. 

    So instead, they set up a reg wall for anonymous visitors. After exceeding the free article limit, they were prompted to sign up for the free newsletter via a meter. From there, Virginia Business sent them a welcome series to introduce them to the brand, establish proof of concept and learn more about each audience member. 

    For Niemeier, the reg wall has helped them shift from quantity and quality. They have fewer unique visitors, but now they can target each of those visitors with specific, personalized messaging and guide them toward a subscription. 

    “Did it reduce our anonymous traffic? Yes. But now we have an audience we can speak to, which when we were letting people visit anonymously, we couldn’t market to them,” Niemeier says. 

    4. Using Omeda’s marketing automation solution, they created abandoned cart, welcome, subscription renewal and win-back campaigns so they could stay attuned to each audience member’s needs throughout the subscription lifecycle. 


    Virginia Business was able to connect and automate their entire paid subscription lifecycle, from their sign-up forms and meters to their email newsletters, their automated renewal campaigns, and print fulfillment services. 

    Niemeier admits that it took patience. But their audience responded, much to Niemeier’s delight. 

    “We’ve had extremely low resistance on converting free to paid on renewals,” he says,” Our audience is the C-suite for the state of Virginia. Most of these people didn’t even know the magazine was free.”

    Most of their paid subscribers either come from subscription renewal campaigns or meters. 

    Metering has also been highly effective for them, despite the team’s initial trepidation. “People were terrified of the welcome wall,” he says. “…. but you find it doesn’t make any difference to the people who are coming [to the site]. You’re really not getting much pushback.”  

    Their performance bears this out: Thanks in part to their paid subscription strategy, Virginia Business increased circulation revenue by 65% in 2023 — doubling its share of their entire revenue mix. 

    While Virginia Business is still primarily driven by advertising, their paid subscription strategy has helped them generate a sustainable reader revenue model that’ll help to fund even better content for their professional audience. 

    So what’s next? Niemeier and his team are trying to reach untapped audiences and continue adding value to their subscription. For instance, they’ve been using existing partnerships to target new audiences, offering a free subscription to each organization’s members with the goal of gradually proving value and eventually converting them to paid subscribers.  

    “Third party programs have become a pretty significant resource for us in terms of going to the Chamber of Commerce or other organizations and saying,’ Hey, we’re willing to offer your membership a 12-month free subscription,’ which we will then convert to paid on renewal.” 

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