Data pays off, speakers told attendees of the INMA Media Subscriptions Summit in London on Wednesday. From informing pricing decisions to content strategies, data gives publishers the ability to respond flexibly based on users’ consumption habits.

When launching its digital subscription business in 2011, Boston Globe Media did extensive research to determine the price of its offering, said Peter Doucette, the company’s chief consumer revenue officer.

“We thought we did a very thorough job of determining the price through the research channels that were available at the time,” he said.

Peter Doucette, chief consumer revenue officer at Boston Globe Media, shared the company's experiences with the use of research to determine the right price point for digital subscribers.
Peter Doucette, chief consumer revenue officer at Boston Globe Media, shared the company's experiences with the use of research to determine the right price point for digital subscribers.

After two years of a US$3.99 price point, the team experimented with five price points — three lower and one higher.

Their initial price was right.

“The US$3.99 price point, studied over a one-year period, was the revenue maximising price,” Doucette said, adding that they were glad their pricing was validated, though this created a challenge for their goal to raise reader revenue. 

Next Doucette and his team identified their most loyal subscribers and experimented with raising the price after one year of membership. They saw an initial volume impact of 5% loss, but the 74% growth in revenue outweighed the cost. The company then raised the price for all of its subscribers to US$6.99, Doucette said.

The result? That 5% volume impact stayed consistent, even for those who have been subscribed less than one year.

“We’re basically trading 5% volume loss for 74% revenue gain,” Doucette said, adding that engaged users are a key area for revenue growth.

The company’s newsletter programme is another strong source of conversion and engagement. Having a relationship with newsletter subscribers is lucrative.

“The power of the e-mail address, the power of the known user, is 10 times compared to an anonymous user,” Doucette said.

Data powers the Globe’s decision to prioritise its newsletter audience. E-mail is the largest driver of users with the highest lifetime value.

“Someone who comes to the site by being a newsletter subscriber has 7% better retention than non-newsletter subscribers,” Doucette said.

Data also informed one of the company’s biggest findings: extending the sampling period of its metered paywall from 30 to 45 days led to a 40% increase in starts from those hitting the paywall. 

Before this, only 59% of users even hit the paywall. By increasing the sampling period and lowering the number of free articles, The Boston Globe saw a significant increase in new digital subscriptions, Doucette said: “I would encourage you guys to think about time as a variable you can experiment with.”

Content is one of the most clear areas where data can inform news media company strategies.

At Norway’s Amedia, data revealed that only 2.6% of subscribers were reading culture content, but they were producing more of it than any other subject area. The problem, according to Executive Vice President Pål Nedregotten, was a disconnection between the newsroom and readers.

“Culture [content] wasn’t unimportant [to readers],” he said. “It’s just that we were doing it wrong.”

Amedia Executive Vice President Pål Nedregotten told audiences at the INMA Media Subscriptions Summit in London how the company used data to guide a broad content strategy shift.
Amedia Executive Vice President Pål Nedregotten told audiences at the INMA Media Subscriptions Summit in London how the company used data to guide a broad content strategy shift.

Most of this culture content was produced for the print edition, which features six pages of it every Thursday. Realising that, Nedregotten said the solution was simple: Stop letting a print mentality lead decisions about what kinds of stories to produce. This shift in strategy has had a significant impact internally.

“We don’t talk about the printed paper anymore,” he said. “We talk about the journalism. The print paper is just a delivery vehicle for the journalism.”

By using more rigorous content standards, rethinking its headline strategy, and improving the visuals with stories, Amedia saw readership of culture content double in the past two years.

Refocusing its content strategy, partnered with a live sports video component, has led to 5.6% subscriber growth in one year. The data-led content changes also reduced the number of “fly-by” users, Nedregotten says. But despite being heavily informed by data, numbers alone can not create change: “And the kicker: Better journalism leads to better results.”