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The Buffalo News selected for Google News Initiative Subscriptions Lab

The Buffalo News is one of 10 newspaper publishers picked to be part of a new program backed by Google aimed at helping local media build online subscriptions.

The initiative, called the Google News Initiative Subscriptions Lab, is a six-month program aimed at helping those newspapers revamp and improve their digital subscription process.

With the newspaper industry grappling with declining print revenue in the internet age, digital subscriptions are viewed as a key element for local media companies, both now and in the future.

“This effort will give us access to these partners’ tremendous resources as well as insight from peers at other participating newspapers,” said Warren T. Colville, The News’ publisher. “I expect it to be a significant boost to our work creating a digital-subscription business that supports our journalism for years to come.”

The program was developed as a partnership between the Google News Initiative and the Local Media Association, an industry trade group. As part of the program, consultants from FTI Consulting will do an evaluation of each participating publisher’s digital subscription efforts, while also conducting market research to help determine the size and scope of the market and also the willingness of readers to pay.

The publishers also will be able to tap into support from Google teams that have expertise in areas such as data, technology, product and subscriptions.

“We know that reader revenue is our future,” said Brian J. Connolly, The News’ vice president for innovation and business development. “That reader revenue is likely to come from digital subscribers. This is going to give us the resources to jumpstart those efforts.”

The Google program includes 10 publishers of varying sizes across the United States and Canada. The other publishers, selected out of 21 that were invited to apply, include: El Nuevo Día, the Baltimore Sun,  the Columbus Dispatch, the Houston Chronicle,  the Idaho Press, the Portland (Me.) Press Herald, the Post and Courier  in Charleston, S.C., the Southeast Missourian and the Toronto Star.

The program is expected to begin this month and will benchmark each publisher’s current performance, while identifying ways to take advantage of short-term opportunities and recommending longer-term strategies.

“While the largest national news publishers have put digital subscriptions at the center of their business transformation, we’ve yet to see a clear template for publications’ success at the metro and local levels,” said Nancy Lane, the president of the Local Media Association, in the Google blog post about the initiative.

“Growing digital consumer revenue isn’t as simple as putting up a paywall,” said Ben Monnie, Google’s director of global partnerships solutions for news and publishing, in a blog post. “It requires a deep organization transformation at all levels.”

Google and Facebook have both launched initiatives to bolster local news organizations, including Facebook’s subscription accelerator for local news, which includes 14 publishers.

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