6 insights for your subscription strategy

If you weren’t able to attend INMA’s sold-out Media Subscriptions Summit last month, you can still benefit from the learnings thanks to the release of their new report, The Media Subscriptions Blueprint. At over 100 pages, the report is a deep dive into best practices and industry leaders in the world of subscriptions, including insights from The New York Times, The Times of London,  Schibsted, Politiken, Helsingin Sanomat, and others.

From these insights and a benchmarking survey for attendees, we have 6 key takeaways for your subscription strategy.

Moving beyond simple paywalls

Simple paywalls are quickly being replaced by hybrid freemium/meter models. Such models are based on the freemium model, with many articles for subscribers-only and the rest of the content metered; there is little to no free content. Strong examples of this model are coming out of Scandinavia, such as Aftenposten.

Elite publishers are going further, implementing dynamic models based on a high degree of personalisation that indicates reader behaviours and willingness to pay. Dynamic models can be used with meter, freemium, and hard pay models. They use technology to create a highly personalised entry through the paywall and involve personalised communications, pricing, and content. INMA believe this will likely be the dominant model soon.

The rise of these more mature paywalls coincides with the increasing integration of data business operations in news organizations, with newsrooms embracing more data-driven decision-making.

Embrace data-driven decision-making

The incorporation of data and technology is key for successful digital subscription strategies, but, as in most areas of the publishing industry, many newsrooms find this to be a daunting proposition. To overcome this, INMA recommends finding a technology partner for your data needs, instead of trying to build a platform in-house.

Data can be used throughout all aspects, from setting revenue-maximising subscription prices to determining which subscribers are your most valuable. For example, at The Boston Globe, they found that newsletter subscribers have 7% better retention than non-newsletter subscribers.

Return to editions

What’s old is new again, and we’re seeing a return to edition-based publishing, something we strongly believe in at Twipe. For this, The Times and Sunday Times of London stand out: in lieu of a real-time newsflow website, they create an overnight edition, then update it three times daily at fixed times. Since this switch a year ago, they’ve seen a 20% increase in audience.

We believe in the power of editions. Our readers love the curated order, finite experience and editorial choice. In times of limitless information and limited time, editions provide the valuable service of selection and judgement.

Alan Hunter, Head of Digital at The Times & The Sunday Times

Value free registered users

Too often, publishers view digital subscription through the lens of free visitors versus paid subscribers, but this neglects the value of free registered users. As one speaker at the summit declared, there is no greater indicator of a reader’s interest to pay than volunteering their e-mail address. The Telegraph knows this, and has set a goal of acquiring 10 million free registered users. Their model offers registered users for free:

  • One Telegraph Premium article per week
  • The ability to comment on articles
  • A choice of newsletters

The Boston Globe also recognises the importance of free registered users.

The power of the e-mail address, the power of the known user, is 10 times compared to an anonymous user. Peter Doucette, Chief consumer revenue officer at Boston Globe Media

Understand your unique value proposition

In order to rise above the noise of today’s information overload, publishers must understand what they offer as their unique value proposition to readers and subscribers. From INMA’s benchmarking survey, investigative journalism and opinion pieces stood outs as the most triggering for digital subscriptions for all types of publications. Such articles cannot be found elsewhere, so it is clear that they have a high potential for subscription conversions.

It is important to know what articles are most triggering for your own readers as well. Suzi Watford, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for The Wall Street Journal, explained that while her team used to believe that arts and culture content was not very important, they learned that it was one of the top five drivers for conversion.

Smarter retention efforts

For news organizations with an already mature digital subscription strategy, a common finding is the need to focus on reducing reader churn. Instead of a continued emphasis on sales efforts to acquire new subscribers, next-generation publishers see their next stage of growth coming from smarter retention and engagement efforts. Despite reaching over 100k digital-only subscribers, Schibsted’s Aftenposten believe sales skill alone will not get them their next 100k digital subscribers; instead there is a need for a mindset shift to “lasting relationships.” Additionally, it’s important to acquire the right customer in the right target segment in the first instance.

This article was written by Mary-Katharine Phillips, Media Innovation Analyst at Twipe from 2017 – 2021.


Team Twipe

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