The COVID-19 era marked a dramatic shift for the news media, with the average news brand doubling its online subscriber base in the last three years.
This trend, of course, affected news media companies in Latin America as in most places throughout the world. During last week’s INMA Latin American Conference, sponsored by the Google News Initiative, Greg Piechota, INMA’s Readers First Initiative lead, looked at the global growth that occurred during the pandemic and explained why some brands grew faster than others. Alejandro Fosk, senior vice president at Comscore, shared a deep dive on three LATAM countries (Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina), while Argentinian media company Clarín explained how its paywall is growing digital subscribers.
5 lessons media companies can learn from the pandemic
“Publishers were very successful in translating the demand for news into subscriptions,” Piechota said, adding that the number of online news subscriptions grew 130% from the first quarter of 2019 to the first quarter of 2022. “We clearly learned that, in a crisis, people turn to news.”
Not all news brands grew equally, however. Piechota shared some lessons learned from the experience.
- Lesson 1: Some grew faster than others — and it wasn’t by chance. “The brands that grew fastest chose innovative subscription models,” Piechota said.
- Lesson 2: This business is made — and broken — by news cycles. Some brands grew faster because they had a good presence on social media, but paywalls also played a role. “Whoever launched paywall before the pandemic ended up with a much higher number of subscribers than those who launched after,” he said.
- Lesson 3: Bold marketing accelerated growth. The brands with the fastest-growing subscription numbers made it easy to buy and offered efficient checkout processes. Long, cheap trial periods also paid off for publishers.
- Lesson 4: The trade-off for fast growth is churn. Despite lower prices, the churn rate for fast growers was twice as high as other brands. However, that growth still paid off: their revenue was three times the amount of those who grew slowly.
- Lesson 5: Fast growers released a cyclone. Innovation in the customer journey was key, and fast growers literally turned the funnel upside down. They adopted a cyclone model, which reverses the conventional approach: “In the traditional journey, people make the decision to buy after they have been engaged,” Piechota said. “In the cyclone [model], publishers target a casual reader and engage them after conversion. It’s risky and bold — but it has good retention rates.”
Brands who are on their digital journey need to have a long-term strategy that includes a retention plan, he said.
“In the end, you probably need to think about building some sort of engine,” he said, reminding members there’s no such thing as a silver bullet when it comes to building digital subscriptions.
“You need to have a digital strategy, and it won’t happen overnight.”
In addition to a strategy, he emphasised the need for internal alignment and collaboration. And to achieve operational excellence, “you need to be able to set up testing experiments and learn from the data. Base your decisions on what the data tells you,” he said.
A deep look at LATAM reader data
As in most of the world, the COVID pandemic at the beginning of 2020 created a huge spike in audience news consumption in Latin countries.
“With lockdowns and curfews being imposed, this meant the audience started to resort to the internet because this was the only way for them to understand the regulations that were being applied,” Comscore’s Fosk said. “The audience consumption was historical.”
The war in Ukraine caused another spike with audience consumption in the beginning of 2022. These metrics show people today are relying on digital news when global events are happening: “We can see how the audience grows over time throughout the region, not just one country.”
Almost all of the Latin America countries have a reach of 80% or more, Fosk looked at the metrics for which audience spends the most time reading the news:
- Argentina and Peru have the highest audience engagement.
- Users in Argentina spend 3.2 hours per month reading online news.
- Peru, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, and Colombia, had similar amounts of monthly consumption at one to two hours.
- Brazil and Chile are the Latin countries with the highest digital news reach, reaching 93% and 96% of the people online.
- In Brazil, only 17% of the audience are using desktops, and Mexico has 15% and Argentina 8%.
The impression social media leaves on audience is also importanth, Fosk said: “The participation on social has increased a lot from January 2020 to June 2022. Obviously social networks are a big tool to grow more engagement and audience for all media outlets.”
Argentina’s Clarín’s is growing subscriptions with its paywall
Leonardo Dalera, chief data analytics officer for Clarín, explained how his company grew digital subscriptions. With 4 million registered users and 17 million anonymous users, Clarín relies on both real-time and historical information to best understand its users.
“There are a lot of different ways to analyse and understand how users behave,” he said.
One important metric is RFV (recency, frequency, and volume), which lets Clarín see which articles are receiving the highest amount of engagement and which content is most likely to convert readers into subscribers: “In real time, something we’ve been able to identify is what articles are going viral,” he said. “We see when the traffic picks up and what articles are responsible for that.”
Digital data delivered in real time provides access to a lot of information at one time, he said, and it has allowed Clarín to see what works in terms of conversion.
Clarín started working with a paywall in 2017 and, after a great deal of testing, has identified what helps convert, when it’s time to shut off access to certain content, and what recommendations for other reading it can make to foster more engagement.
In 2022, it began identifying selective hard paywall content, which consists of quality articles that readers are inclined to pay for, Delera said: “Today 50% of our subscribers come from the hard paywall and we are working toward increasing that.”
Complete coverage can be found here.