Do young people read the news? American publishers have seen an increase in subscriptions from millennials, thanks in part to the “Trump bump” which saw the proportion of people aged 18-24 who paid for online news leap from 4% to 18% in a year. Globally as well, publishers are seeing younger audiences, perhaps due to subscription streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify conditioning young people to be more willing to pay for quality content.
Media companies are concerned about their age profile across print and digital. The fear is young people aren’t going to grow into the tradition of subscribing. There’s a huge battle at the quality end of the market and an intense push for the same people. Everyone is aware of how important that [18-24-year-old] group of the next leaders is. The difficulty is the intense competition in the market and the price points.
Nic Newman, editor of the Reuters Institute Digital News Report
While there is a common misconception that young people won’t pay for content, in fact this trend is observed across age lines. According to recent data from the Reuters Institute Digital News Report, most people do not pay for news because they believe they can get it for free somewhere else. In order to convince young people to become loyal subscribers, we have tips and examples from leading publishers this week. Such strategies can be as basic as offering free subscriptions for students, per the Financial Times’ recent example, to creating a whole new product specifically designed with younger readers in mind.
Lesson 1: Understand what motivates young people
A growing number of readers are concerned about their online privacy, a feeling that is especially strong among millennials. The importance of data privacy is only growing in recent months, with scandals from Facebook and the deadline for GDPR compliance next month. Millennials, the first generation to grew up in a fully digital world, do care about their online privacy, but they also view their personal data as a currency and are willing to spend it, in the right conditions.
Another importance when approaching younger generations is understanding what motivates them to subscribe. Helsingin Sanomat noticed that while young people were reading their content more than older generations, they weren’t subscribing at the same rate. Instead, younger readers often didn’t see a need to pay for content as even the soft paywall had easy workarounds to read more. To solve this problem, they introduced hard paywall articles they call ‘diamond articles‘. These articles are hand-picked, high-quality stories that are mainly feature-like articles. Such stories are even promoted on social media, marked with a diamond emoji, to showcase what kind of content is available to subscribers.
By strengthening the rate of digital subscriptions amongst its youngest readers, Helsingin Sanomat is better insulated from the ups and downs of the advertising market. But the impact of these diamond stories goes even further, with the newsroom now putting greater emphasis on the production of content that creates value and better converts readers into subscribers.
Publishers can also leverage familial ties to trigger subscriptions from young people. By becoming part of a family’s routine, younger audiences are more likely to subscribe once they are older and out of the house. To leverage this, publishers can offer family discounts in which additional family members can begin a subscription at a lower price (more than just the common digital access that is given for families now).
Lesson 2: Reach the younger generation where they already are
With a third of 18-24 year olds saying social media is their main source of news, savvy publishers know they need to be active on the platforms young people use everyday.
While Snapchat has faced a publish backlash in recent weeks, in part thanks to its design update, app installs are still up, so Snapchat still plays a large role in many publishers’ strategies. The Economist is one such publisher focusing on Snapchat, with daily deep dives into topics such as the threat posed by North Korea, drug legalisation, and the possibility of alien life. This strategy has worked out well for them, with 7.1 million unique visitors every month.
Snapchat Discover has led to the single biggest step change in our readership since we were founded in 1843 – it’s extremely exciting for us to be put in front of an audience this age.
Lucy Rohr, Snapchat Editor for The Economist
Le Monde has seen similar success with its Snapchat Discovery strategy. Every day 12 stories, generally hard news stories such as politics and terrorism, are adapted for the younger audience and published at 17h on Snapchat. Topics that are interesting for millennials but not covered as in-depth in Le Monde are also published.
Instagram is a popular platform as well for young people, and the Guardian is using this to cultivate a loyal audience among younger readers. Interestingly, 60% of those who follow links from Instagram to the Guardian’s site are new to the Guardian, so the plan is to encourage them to first become regular readers and in time possibly even paying members. The content is a mix of new content made for Instagram and existing assets, such as galleries created from images in related stories.
Lesson 3: Create new products to reach a new audience
Perhaps you already have a sizeable youth audience, and the above tips will help you better engage them. But for publishers who need to first reach a younger generation, creating an entirely new product can be the key.
For the BBC, they decided to offer a new way for young people to increase their news literacy and learn how to identify fake news. Players experience what it is like to be a journalist in the midst of a breaking news story. They have to make choices while reporting the story that affect their accuracy, impact, and speed. This game comes as part of a broader push from BBC to help 11-18 year olds develop critical thinking and media literacy skills, which has seen more than 100 journalists deliver in-school workshops for British teens.
The New York Times took it a step further with their monthly section for kids. Originally started as a one-off experiment, the section became a monthly feature thanks to reader demand. The section includes both entertainment, such as stories on how to make slime, plus informative articles at a kid-friendly level about a variety of topics, including gene editing and gerrymandering. Caitlin Roper, The New York Times Magazine’s special projects editor, explained that this project aims to “think about news stories from the point of view of a kid”, without simplifying their reporting.
Argentinian publisher Grupo América also knew it needed to change their tone to reach a younger audience. First they launched a newsletter in order to gauge what topics and language young people best responded to. Now, their news product for young people, UNO, has more than 500,000 monthly users to its site, with 85% between the ages of 18-34. They achieved this by adapting the language and format to be more engaging, including a heavy use of emojis. Still, the team stresses that they hold their journalistic values in high regard.
We cover stories that are relevant to millennials while respecting journalistic rigour and traditional journalistic values.
Alejandro Lladó, Grupo América’s digital business manager
No matter where you’re starting, there’s a way for you to reach a younger audience. Even Danish political news site Altinget, whose readers are mainly 55+, is branching out. Now there are in the process of creating a news product specifically for young people between the ages of 13-18. While still in the earlier stages, project manager Kristoffer Hequet is exploring all the ways publishers have worked to engage younger readers, with the idea to go live later this year.
This article was written by Mary-Katharine Phillips, Media Innovation Analyst at Twipe from 2017 – 2021.