How publishers leveraged Black Friday & Cyber Monday in their subscriber strategies

Black Friday deals come thick and fast, and often it is difficult to see which deal best suits your needs.

With all the Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals across the publishing industry, we decided to analyse the offers from different publishers and the strategies that they deployed.

A push to digital

After a sift through the offers, taking a look at the nature of most offers was fascinating. In our analysis, we chose 50 publishers, with not all seeming to promote an offer. Intriguingly, most publishers offered their Black Friday discounts on their digital products, not within print. Clearly, publishers are making a concerted effort to push new subscriber growth within their digital product. After all, with the expected limited lifespan of print products, digital is the future for most newsrooms. So, let’s explore the deals!

Giveaways for growth

Everybody loves a bargain. Better still, everybody loves what they think is a free giveaway. But after all, there’s no such thing as a free lunch! According to Psychologist Dr Eva Krockow, there are two key reasons why people love free things. One is that a positive charge is experienced when given an unexpected gift, and this feeling of joy is likely to impact heavily on subsequent choices. Second, whilst people typically have lower expectations with a free item, these lowered standards are easily surpassed.

So, which publishers leveraged these giveaway feelings of joy?

The Boston Globe went straight to the heart (or stomach) of consumers. For their Black Friday deal, The Boston Globe chose to go for a medium-term offer. They provided new subscribers 6 months of access to their journalism for $1. Alongside this, the publisher teamed up with Dunkin Donuts, and offered all new subscribers a $10 Dunkin’ Gift Card. Here, the publisher was able to offer something different than just a pure journalism bundle. They could appeal to other consumer interests. Ultimately, who doesn’t love a free coffee?

Boston Globe combining offer with Dunkin Donuts

In the UK, The Daily Mail decided to go for a more traditional giveaway. In a bid to promote their digital edition offering, the British publisher offered a free Amazon Fire 7 Tablet to new subscribers. Not only this, but they also offered subscribers free money in the form of a £30 Amazon Gift Card. All of this was offered for the price of just 28p per day, or £1.96 a week for the first year! This deal was a great way for the publisher to push people towards experiencing the Daily Mail’s full digital offering.

Daily Mail offering a free tablet and Amazon voucher

The distribution of tablets to subscribers is something that has become a growing trend within the industry. In 2018, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sent out iPads to all of their subscribers in a bid to cut print production. In September 2021, The Chattanooga Times Free Press followed suit. Much like The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, they sent instructors to teach readers how to use their tablets.

Whilst giveaways are a great way to create positive brand feelings with customers, they do present a few issues. One issue with this approach is the degeneration of tablets. By being given tablets, tech teams face the challenge of ensuring that products still work on tablets sent out to consumers. With these tablets being provided by the publisher, the expectation from subscribers is that these continue to work no matter what. Otherwise, subscribers will expect to be provided with a replacement. So, whilst publishers should not hesitate in promoting giveaways, they must be sure to manage expectations.

Bundles took a backseat

After having discussed the potential future importance of bundled subscriptions in previous blog posts, the trend was sparse on Black Friday. These bundles can be mutually beneficial for providers, but deals can be difficult to strike. One publisher who did offer a bundle within publishing, albeit a short term one, was The Telegraph.

Through promotion in their Top Stories newsletter, The Telegraph offered 3 months access to their digital offering to new subscribers for £2. On top of this, the subscription provided access to a choice of the UK’s most popular magazines. The titles offered included BBC Good Food, BBC Gardeners’ World and BBC History. Here, the appeal clearly was the chance to get access to 2 well-known UK legacy brands for a short-term, with the hope of a continued subscription to both.

The Telegraph bundling subscription with leading magazine access

These bundle deals provide great exposure and also offer potential solutions to the subscription battle. Whilst still not overwhelmingly popular within publishing, their reach could expand. Bundling the news could help news to reclaim both appeal and utility.

Long-term subscriptions leveraged

Publishers need to ditch one-night stands and build long-term relationships to have better relationships with subscribers. In a bid to build this long-term subscriber habit relationship, some publishers offered long-term subscription deals on Black Friday.

Danish publisher Berlingske offered new customers the opportunity to sign up for their journalism for 1 Danish Krone a day (€0.33), billed at DKK365 (€49) for the year. This offer gave the feeling of tradition. New subscribers were invited to feel like they were purchasing a daily newspaper. At just 1 DKK, this was significantly cheaper than the print’s daily 39 DKK. Berlingske’s long-term focus and daily pricing gave a feeling of a commitment to truly supporting quality journalism. The offer certainly appealed to those wanting their daily fix of news.  

Berlingske offering 1 year digital access

Having signed up for the offer last year myself, The Athletic reintroduced their “Deal of the Year”.  With this deal, new subscribers could get access to “the best newsroom in sport” for just $1 a month for a full year. The publisher frequently offer discounts to their product within their podcasts in a bid to bring in new subscribers. Overall, these discounts and offers have been a success. The Athletic currently report 1.2 million subscribers. This is not bad for 2016 digital-only publishing startup purely focused on sports journalism.

The Atheltic’s “Deal of the Year”

Despite boasting the 5th largest English-speaking digital subscriber base, the publisher is under pressure from investors to deliver a return, since the business remains unprofitable. As a publisher always seeming to offer a discounted price, it can be difficult to get people to pay full price.

Taking this long term focus further, German Publisher Kölner Stadt Anzeiger offered new subscribers 2 years of their premium subscription offering for €3.90. This deal presented a saving of 60% for subscribers. This extra long-term approach was particularly noteworthy as offers of this nature promote loyalty and commitment to a brand.

Kölner Stadt Anzeiger’s ambitious push for 2 year subscriptions

One particular threat of long-term subscription offers is that they can minimise the value of journalism in the eye of subscribers. Offering reduced prices for a longer period can make consumers more hesitant to pay for quality journalism. So whilst they do offer great potential in building long-term relationships, the risk is that when prices go up, subscribers will be scared off. Finding the right balance between fair pricing and long-term relationship is not easy. But, crack that and consumer relations can be much better.

Still a place for short and medium term offers

Short and medium term offers provide publishers with a short sharp burst of subscribers. These offers hope to maximise the potential of the 66 days needed to form a habit. Short term offers give subscribers a smaller period to decide whether to continue their subscription journey and can be a great form of publisher exposure without the commitment. These offers tend to focus heavily on their onboarding experiences. They ensure that new subscribers are exposed to all features as quickly as possible.

With The Times’ journalism being behind a strong paywall, chances to try out their digital journalism are limited. Therefore, their Black Friday offer tempted readers 3 months of access for £3 to expose them to their content. This offer is particularly interesting as digital access at The Times provides further features to the print edition. Subscribers gain access to exclusive videos and topical newsletters. With 380,000 digital subscribers, their model clearly offers success. The publisher is even offering new features to engage subscribers. One such feature has been leveraging the power of audio with The Times Radio.

The Times’ bold discovery offer for new readers

Short and medium term-offers were the most common type of offers in Sweden. Expressen offered visitors the opportunity to read their premium content for free until the 28th February. By exposing readers to free premium content for 3 months, the aim of the offer clearly is to bring subscribers with them when the paywall is reinstalled.

Elsewhere in Sweden, Göteborgs Posten promoted a series of short and medium term offers to new subscribers. Their first deal gave new subscribers to buy 6 months of access to their website for 1 Swedish Krone. Maintaining the premium feel of the digital edition, the publisher then offered just 1 months access to their ePaper and other digital offerings for 1 Swedish Krone, before returning to their ordinary price.

Göteborgs-Posten promoting deals for both digital and ePaper access

Choosing to add print to their Black Friday deals, Dagens Nyheter offered 50% discount on access to their print and digital offerings. New subscribers could get weekend print and full digital access for 199 SEK a month for 6 months, or choose to get print daily and full digital access for 299 SEK.

These combination offers provide a bridging feel to new subscribers, exposing them to digital offerings so that they can be prepared for publishers to eliminate print. Interestingly, Dagens Nyheter were one of only 4 publisher we saw actively offering print within their deals from our analysis.

Dagens Nyheter offering discount on combined subscriptions

Particularly interesting with these short-term offers is the commitment to maximise the value of journalism. By offering low prices for a short period, publishers encourage new subscribers to then pay full price for their journalism at a quicker rate. This is a brave move from publishers, but defending the value of your product is vital for financial sustainability. So, whilst these short term offers may not offer the long-term commitment of longer offers, they place a real focus on the value of journalism, as at the end of the day, subscribers are still getting the same quality product, just in a more convenient digital format.

A word for existing subscribers

Whilst these offers are an effective way to bring in new subscribers, how they affect current subscribers is something publishers must seriously consider. After all, subscribers must feel respected and rewarded for their loyalty by publishers. Therefore, focus on retention must be at the forefront of publishers’ minds as they embark on subscription sales.

Despite this, it will be fascinating to monitor the success of these deals in future retention. This is something we will explore in a future blog post so stay tuned.

Matthew Lynes
Media Innovation Analyst @ Twipe

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