BILDplus doubles its subscribers in a fully growing German digital news market

With worldwide sales of daily print newspapers and magazines continuing to fall, publishers are pursuing different strategies for the transition to online business models. Still, the transition remains anything but straightforward. Returns from digital advertising have been falling for years and made worse by lower rates on mobile. But in general, only a few specialist publishers or heritage brands have been able to charge significant amounts for content in a world when there is so much free news available.

Looking at the current German market, we have found two different reports that studied the percentage of paying subscribers for digital news. Even though the numbers are not always the same in the two studies, the underlining idea of both of them is that there can be noticed a good increase in the subscription sales. With more Internet users paying for digital news content, the future of German digital news appears be very interesting and promising in the same time.

Increased willingness to pay for digital news

“About 33% of internet users in Germany have paid for digital news content in the past year, according to June 2016 research from Bitkom,” writes 22% of the respondents of this study have a monthly subscription, while overall, 36% had paid for news content in one way or another.

According to the 2016 Digital News Report published by Reuters, the number of people who pay for online news in Germany is lower than the Bitkom report, at just 8% in their survey. Reuters admits though the fact that publishers are increasingly focusing on charging for online content.

Betting on the success of paid content is the right thing to do

Axel Springer, which publishes best-selling tabloid BILD and national daily DIE WELT, is partly betting on the success of paid content to reduce the company’s dependence on advertising. The focus of the company continues to be on increasing paid subscription sales for the two titles. With a total growth rate of 26% in the annual average (in 2015) compared with 2014, the digital subscription offerings of BILD and WELD recorded significant progress. Only six months after its launch, the BILD brand subscription has already recruited 152,493 full-paying subscribers (status as in December 2013).

Axel Springer announced in January 2016 more than 310,000 paying subscribers for its premium BILDplus services and around 74,000 for DIE WELT.

“In the first few months of BILDplus, we have discovered that it is precisely those stories requiring a great deal of editorial work and research which persuade our readers to start a BILDplus subscription. Whether entertainment, sport or service topics – it is above all our multimedia storytelling and our very own journalistic BILD content which induce the readers to become subscribers to BILDplus,” said Manfred Hart, editor-in-chief.

Another German player, Süddeutsche Zeitung, has restricted, as of last year, users to 10 free articles, with a paywall once this limit is reached.

According to the Federation of German paper the same method is now used by about one-third of daily newspapers online. A bigger proportion (60%) use a freemium model where selected content is charged with a certain amount of money (micropayment) and just 5% of German publishers rely on a hard paywall that restricts all content to paying users.