Case studies illustrate how digital subscriptions are up 37% since last year
Conference Blog | 06 November 2022
Around the world, people are actively avoiding reading the news, while at the same time, consumers are trimming things like news subscriptions from their budget in the midst of economic stress.
Despite these challenges, publishers are still gaining new subscriptions and learning how to retain subscribers and avoid churn, Greg Piechota, INMA’s Readers First Initiative Lead, said during the recent Digital Subscriber Acquisition Master Class.
The digital-only subscription base is actually growing, with the total number up 37% from the first quarter of 2021 to the second quarter of 2022, according to INMA’s Subscription Benchmarking Service. Subscription sales are also up despite declines in traffic.
“You can also see that publishers really learned how to sell subscriptions,” Piechota said.
During the master class, media leaders shared how they are doing just that, outlining strategies to reach and convert new audiences and tactics to improve how teams can support these efforts.
The inscrutability of Google’s algorithms is well known. It’s made more frustrating when you’re trying to optimise your paywalled Web site. Then there’s the realisation the search engine likes to change its algorithms every couple of months, sometimes more.
But Jakub Sawa, the organic growth director at wyborcza.pl in Poland, offered targeted strategies to tackle the algorithms, understand reader habits, and gain subscriptions: “High-quality content, mobile-first approach, SEO on-page optimisation, and internal and external links,” Sawa said.
At wyborcza.pl, the SEO team does not correct or optimise. Reporters, editors, and managers are tasked with the responsibility; in fact, training and annual refresher courses are mandatory. This means learning to write headlines, SEO titles and photo captions, as well as adding internal and external links.
Getting the editorial side to buy-in can seem akin to persuading a child to eat vegetables. The attitude might be the same: It’s boring, but it’s good for you.
“It was difficult in the beginning. Many were experienced journalists, working the last 30 years. They were skeptical [about] something very abstract and completely [in their minds] unnecessary,” Sawa said. “But when I showed them optimisation isn’t bad and it doesn’t destroy their work but makes even more people read their articles, they slowly started to learn how to do it.”
Experiment with marketing campaigns
Ricki Lyngsøe, head of subscription marketing at Denmark’s Ekstra Bladet, shared main takeaways from some of the marketing experiments the team has run throughout the year.
- Clear, eye-catching campaigns of price reductions work best: “We’ve run campaigns that were very pretty, but they didn’t stand out enough to grab the user’s attention.”
- Targeting profiles for conversion based on activity and purchase maturity is efficient: “It’s also the cheapest way to convert because we don’t need to make something pretty to make sure they convert.”
- Benefit schemes need to be promoted constantly: “We also need to make them as hassle-free as possible. If there are too many clicks or steps to get to what they want, they’ll stop using it.”
- Clear end dates mean campaigns perform much better: “If campaigns go on for too long, sales stagnate.”
“We recently had the 25th anniversary of our online site,” Lyngsøe shared as a specific example bolstering the last point, “and we ran a campaign for just that one day, offering a lifetime subscription rate of 25 DKK per month. We had 828 sales in just that one day.”
Leveraging propensity models
For Spain’s El Mundo, adopting a paywall model in October 2019 was simultaneously a case of “better late than never” and a perfect storm of circumstances that have resulted in much higher growth rates than had been expected.
“When COVID first hit, we saw a spike,” Gabriela Bolognese, El Mundo’s chief digital officer, said. “The numbers went down again, but we saw another jump in the next wave of the pandemic.”
They knew they needed a partner because they didn’t have the resources in-house, so they began by implementing Piano’s “propensity model.” Once they introduced Piano’s dynamic pricing model, El Mundo’s subscription rates increased by 58%.
The propensity model has served them well, Bolognese said. As the strategy evolves, though, the goal is to move from the standpoint of “propensity based on the user” to one that includes “propensity based on the content,” Bolognese said. “Ideally, we want to combine the two.”
Simplifying the check-out process
Peter Nagy doesn’t dance around the topic — or his answer.
When it comes to choosing subscription revenue vs. the number of subscriptions, revenue wins out every time.
Nagy, the chief marketing officer for Petit Press Slovakia, the second-largest news media outlet in that nation, has his reasons.
“We see that our ad sales continue to decline, so we are not naive, and we focus more resources on our subscription revenue,” he said, adding that targeting revenue was a business decision made from the very beginning.
SME.sk, the digital product of Petit Press, is the second-most visited news Web site in Slovakia (behind aktuality.sk), a country that has about 3.3 million unique internet users. The site is unusual in that it has had a paywall of some kind since 2011 — it’s practically an early adopter — and 60,000 subscribers.
SME.sk’s philosophy is simple: Make it as easy as possible for the reader to buy a subscription.
“We are quite proud of our check-out page, which is very, very easy and streamlined,” Nagy said. “We have tested it over and over and over until we found this, the way it is now. The results of this are quite good. We are very happy with that.”
Reimagining teams and workflows
The idea of working in silos is quickly becoming a thing of the past.
Hanna Månsson, Stampen Media’s head of subscriptions, explained how the Swedish media company benefited when it began looking at teams differently. Traditional media companies look at workflows as having siloed responsibilities within departments, but Månsson called this a huge missed opportunity.
“What if we instead were to open up not just a two-way communication but a two-way collaboration?” Månsson asked, noting that different teams can benefit from the insights of other teams. Marketing can learn from journalists and the product department, and vice versa: “What if we were to work truly cross-functionally with the single goal to create content and an experience that our customers and users want and need?”
Månsson offered master class attendees three examples of how that cross-functional approach was executed and how it continued changing the company’s way of thinking. These experiments not only provided important information that could be applied to increase conversions, but it created new competencies within the company as different departments worked together and learned from each other.
“We all gathered new tools, tasks, and built a more thorough understanding,” Månsson said. “We also saw how collaboration spreads. Once we had run one test and one experiment, the people who worked together would join up again over different things. And it became a very organic way of introducing cross-functional work.”