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4 news media companies share digital subscription revenue models

By Marek Miller


Lodz, Poland


In the news industry, there is a general agreement that revenue from digital advertising alone is not sufficient to make online journalism viable. In response, news media across Europe are shifting gears when it comes to digital subscriptions and paid content.

With nearly endless revenue models — freemium, metered, hybrid subscriptions, pay-per-article, and more — there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach.

Though the right solution differs for every brand, some lessons are certain: revenue diversification is a must and new KPI’s are needed. However, innovation is abundant at European news media, industry experts at INMAs News Media European Conference agreed on Thursday.

Panel on digital subscription revenue success: Peter Hickman, marketing director/subscriptions at Telegraph Media Group; Maxime Mone, co-founder of; Jens Nicolaisen, head of digital at Jyllands-Posten and; Marius Stanevičius, sales director of Lithuanian 15MIN.
Panel on digital subscription revenue success: Peter Hickman, marketing director/subscriptions at Telegraph Media Group; Maxime Mone, co-founder of; Jens Nicolaisen, head of digital at Jyllands-Posten and; Marius Stanevičius, sales director of Lithuanian 15MIN.

In today’s session, three leaders shared examples of what has been working successfully for them in seven-minute Brainsnack presentations.

Telegraph Premium 

Since it launched on November 3, 2016, Telegraph Premium has received 125,000 registrations to date, tracking at 1,500 per day. Digital subscriptions have increased by 25%, revenues by 40%, and annualised retention has improved by 25%.

“Words are powerful, choose them well,” said Peter Hickman, marketing director/subscriptions at Telegraph Media Group.

This philosophy lies at the heart of Telegraph’s business as the biggest quality daily newspaper in Britain, Hickman said. The news media companys model puts 20% of its articles behind the paywall; 80% are free to readers. Hickman shared three reasons behind the Telegraph’s decision to go premium:

  • Diversification: The Telegraph uses approaches that are complementary; for example, subscription travel, financial services, advertising.
  • Fragmentation: Maintain a consistent proposition across all platforms.
  • Coherence: Building a brand around quality content.

The Premium works, Hickman said, sharing tips for others to make it work for them:

  1. Take editorial on the journey. Asking for a subscription demonstrates the value of the journalism to the readers.
  2. Focus on your strengths. Decide which content to make premium and what to leave outside the paywall.
  3. Go to your customer. Apps make it easier to sell subscriptions, so take advantage of them.
  4. Know your customer.

Maxime Mone, co-founder of, spoke about engaging users in a way that would allow publishers to turn them into paying subscribers. Mone noticed that during the past 15 years, the market has shifted from print advertising, to digital advertising, and then to digital subscriptions.

Digital publishing will be in the hands of the readers — not the advertisers.

Mone outlined several problems noticed by that could be addressed by other publishers:

  • Less than 1% of users pay to read the online news.
  • 60% immediately leave a Web site of paid content.
  • 50% don’t even see the paywall because it’s too low on the page. takes a different approach. Instead of trying to get readers pay for news, they try to engage them step-by-step. Starting with “fly-by” and occasional users, they build them into regular users, then into fans, and finally — into subscribers.

According to Mone, publishers need to create custom relationships with their readers. He advised trying new ways of creating these relationships with different types of readers.

In doing this, Poool has been able to offer users a data-driven paywall that empowers the publisher to personalise the reader’s journey, and thus increase average revenue per user. By using data from publishers, the publisher can create segments of users, and differentiate their strategies towards those various groups.

Poool tested many options with the goal of increasing user engagement. For example, for the fly-by readers, Poool offered an option of reading the first article for free, with subsequent articles available for a price. Adblock readers, however, could not read any articles at all.

Watch Medier

Watch Medier started as just one subscription-based, B2B niche site: MediaWatch. It has since grown to eight sites, covering topics including finance, medical, food, energy, shipping, real estate, and IT. All of these sites, owned by JP/Politiken, have reached a leadership position in their respective sectors and are growing rapidly — a growth that is driven by subscription sales.

When talking about digital subscriptions, relevance is kind, according to Jens Nicolaisen, head of digital at Jyllands-Posten and, and chairman of the board at WatchMedier.

Relevance drives engagement, and thus is the market approach of his company. For example, the general B2B site focuses on data-driven personalisation.

The execution of this strategy included:

  • Launching one to two niche Web sites per year.
  • Operating as a purely digital-born model.
  • Keeping these sites, born outside of the existing organisation, driven from outside as well.

Nicolaisen shared the results:

  • A  leading position in each segment, with a preferred product in each niche.
  • High-priced company solutions for the employees.
  • A high retention rate.
  • Double-digit growth rates and positive results after three years.


Marius Stanevičius, sales director of Lithuanian 15MIN, shared his ideas about how to convert users with adblockers — a large challenge that his company faced, with as much as 15% of its audience using adblockers.

Unlike many anti-ad-blocking campaigns, which feature a pop-up simply asking the user to “white list” the site or to subscribe in order to read the paid content, 15MIN uses its journalists to appeal directly to the readers.

The goal is to humanise the struggle to pay for journalism by putting the staff front-and-centre in a campaign called “Stop selling, Start telling.” Instead of simply having text asking users to turn off the ad blocker, 15MIN showed videos of journalists speaking directly to the readers.

The campaign brought interesting results:

  • The social media and comment sections went nuts, with both positive and negative reactions.
  • Daily pageviews coming from users with adblockers dropped 10x.
  • More than 600 people opted-in to subscribe to the ad-free version.
  • Ad revenues grew by 47%, compared to 17% market growth.

The INMA European News Media Conference continues through Friday.

About Marek Miller

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