Key Takeaways from the INMA Subscriptions Summit

One week ago INMA concluded this year’s Subscriptions Summit. There is a nostalgia to this event as last year’s edition in New York was arguably the last time we all gathered face-to-face for a week of workshops and talks. 

This year, the team at INMA assembled a great virtual line-up of media innovation cases from all around the globe. From the 13+ hours of zoom sessions, we selected 3 key learnings that stood out to us.

“In news media we are re-doing our product-market fit”

Having joined Gannett as CMO after a journey of growth at Spotify, Mayur Gupta opened with a provoking observation: “In news media we are back in start-up mode, we are re-doing our product-market fit“. No wonder so many publishers are talking about the importance of product lately and almost every presenter at the summit mentioned experimentation and testing. These are critical ways for proving product-market fit.

But there are still barriers to cross in the industry. In our last webinar we explored how newspapers can adopt a more “Day One” mentality and keep the agility of start-ups. 41% of webinar attendees agreed that company culture is what most prevents them from adopting a “Day One” approach, while among INMA survey respondents roughly half would not do any experimentation.

In an open and insightful talk, Gibson Biddle, former VP of Product at Netflix spoke about the product strategies behind the giant’s success. Finding the difficult balance between customer delight and margin contribution was critical in building new products. At Netflix this could only be achieved through well defined Consumer Science and A/B testing of hypotheses.

The CMO panel featuring Miki King from Washington Post and Suzi Watford from Wall Street Journal brought insights about the impressive 2020 growth of the two companies: the Washington Post reached 3 million digital-only subscribers while Wall Street Journal hit the 2.5 million mark of purely digital subscribers, which brings the total print&digital combined subscriber base to 3.2 million for WSJ and more than 4 million at group level for Dow Jones.

As a critical factor behind the Post’s growth Miki King identified the ability to test fast across the organisation. With a mature testing culture, the team at Washington Post runs 4-8 experiments in any given day.

“It is not unlike our teams to start an experiment on Monday, by Thursday we all hop on a call to see what are the results and by Friday we are rolling out to the whole test group”

– Miki King, Washington Post

An impressive figure on testing and experimentation came also from Finland where Kaisa Aalto explained that Helsingin Sanomat ran 95 A/B tests in 2020 linked to subscription sales only. One interesting experiment tested more advantageous price points for billing cycles of 3 or 6 months instead of 1 month. This drove 15% more subscribers while increasing average Net Present Value of the subscription by 71%.

At the Wall Street Journal the team continued to experiment as well. 2020 brought the launch of new products and election specific campaigns, but also further testing of new platforms. Suzi Watford mentioned the importance that Clubhouse could play in the Journal’s community and in further exploring the potential of readers who often comment or interact on social.

This is a topic triggering more and more curiosity among many publishers. In the spirit of experimentation, join us next Thursday on Clubhouse to talk about What Clubhouse can mean for news media publishers.

Experiments with ePaper and print continue to surprise

Three publishers spoke about surprising experiments they did with ePaper and print. Inspired by The Atlantic, the team at Helsingin Sanomat in Finland introduced a new offering: a bundle of digital access plus a monthly feature magazine in print. This has shown great results. Readers subscribed to this bundle have an expected increase in retention with at least 9 percentage points while the net value of the bundle is much higher. The team plans to further work on experiments where print can be upsold as premium. After years of print decline and skepticism about the survival of print it is interesting to observe and continue to explore this trend.

Astrid Hald Jørgensen, Commercial Director at Danish publisher Politiken also challenged the myth that print like products will die quickly. To drive revenue growth, Politiken made the bold move of increasing their basic digital plan from 10$ to 40$. To justify the 400% increase they added the ePaper in the bundle which turned out to be a successful strategy as readers did find it valuable enough to pay the higher price. With this move Politiken saw an increase with 8.4% in subscription revenue.

Perhaps the most unexpected experiment with a replica ePaper came from Asia, where Singapore Press Holdings launched a completely new replica ePaper for tablet. Studying reader behaviour, the team uncovered a very interesting segment: people who like reading the curated content like in print, were not subscribed to the paper nor would that have suited their lifestyle and they are “digital immigrants”, meaning they use digital devices but are not extremely savvy. For this segment they launched the new replica ePaper which drove a record performance in overall subscription growth ranging from 2.13 times growth for their flagship title The Straits Times to 4.81 times to the Berita Harian.

New replica ePaper subscription growth for Singapore Press Holdings

According to Eric Ng, Vice-President Circulation at Singapore Press Holdings, an impressive 70% of these subscribers are completely new while the rest could come from existing digital and print subscriptions.

This is particularly interesting for us at Twipe as we continue to study the perceived value of bundled and structured edition products such as the replica newspaper and how this links to the the increasing ePaper consumption trend. On our platform we see as well that ePaper editions have the potential to drive subscription growth. With subscription revenue becoming so important, this is really good news and can turn surprisingly beneficial like in the cases of Politiken and Singapore Press Holdings. To learn more about ePaper driven subscription startegies, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team.

Newsletter strategies go beyond engagement or retention

Most publishers have already introduced newsletters for engaging readers across the different stages of their journey. With various experiments concluded in the past year and data already gathered, the summit brought new insights on the results publishers see with their newsletter strategies.

Newsletters are a key driver for habit formation as they carry the trigger that brings reader to the product. Building skill and knowledge in habit formation was a key driver for success at the Wall Street Journal last year. To combat the high level of churn typically seen in the first 3 months, Wall Street Journal focused on habit building for the new subscribers acquired in the COVID or Election “bumps”.

We knew how to build habits quickly and keep people engaged. Cohorts from COVID and Election have higher engagement than our base.

– Suzi Watford, Executive VP and CMO, Wall Street Journal

In our co-development project with The Times of London back in 2019 we observed 49% reduction of churn on test cohorts of readers exposed to daily personalised newsletters with the JAMES personalisation algorithms. Later this month we will share new insights from experiments done with two other publishers, Daily Mail and NRC. If you haven’t registered yet, make sure to do so.

For The Boston Globe newsletters play a role not only in building subscriber engagement but also in acquisition. Tom Brown, Senior Director of Consumer Revenue, explained that the team is currently running 30 newsletters and while for the existing subscribers they see 25% of the visits coming from newsletters, 15-25% of all newly acquired subscriptions are generated via newsletters as well.

Aside from onboarding, retention and acquisition there is a fourth tactic newsletters can play a role in: activation of low engaged readers.

We heard publishers recently talking about “light” or “dormant” readers. Medill Research Centre published this week a study from 45 countries showing that 49% of subscribers are “zombies” – they pay for a subscription but would not actually engage with content. Piano data showed that this is true also among new subscribers 39% are inactive.

This is a group we are strongly focusing on in the experiments we define together with publishers during the JAMES Launch Partner Program. We will select 2 more Launch Partners this year, get in touch if you would like to learn more.

Extra: 10 Brain Snacks from around the Summit

Aside form key learnings on experimentation, myths busted on ePapers and print and the continued focus on newsletters, here are 10 extra snacks and quotes from around the Summit to delight your brain:

  1. Most frustrating at news products is having to login again and again or being shown offers to subscribe when I am a subscriber. – Gibson Biddle, Former Vice-President Product, Netflix
  2. Short iterations make the project keep its course. – Siri Holstad Johannessen, Head of Sales and Marketing, Aftenposten
  3. Don’t worry about getting it right, get it live. – Steve Dempsey, Group Director of Publishing Products, Independent News and Media
  4. My new obsession is the light reader. – Miki King, Chief Marketing Officer, The Washington Post
  5. Distribution is key. – David Walmsley, Editor-In-Chief, The Globe and Mail
  6. The difference between news and opinion is less clear in digital as opposed to print and is important to explain it especially to new readers. – Suzi Watford, Executive Vice-President, Chief Marketing and Membership Officer, The Wall Street Journal
  7. We have not decided to focus on subscribers only and not on advertising – Miki King, Chief Marketing Officer, The Washington Post
  8. These moments of so much traffic are rare and we have to focus on doing the right thingSuzi Watford, Executive Vice-President, Chief Marketing and Membership Officer, The Wall Street Journal,
  9. Subscription is a mindset Mayur Gupta, Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer, Gannett
  10. Always celebrate successSiri Holstad Johannessen, Head of Sales and Marketing, Aftenposten,


Team Twipe

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