CommonWealth Magazine Group boosts digital magazine subscriptions with 4 steps

By Paula Felps


Nashville, Tennessee, United States


CommonWealth Magazine Group led in innovation when, in 2017, it introduced a metred paywall.

“It was a time in Taiwan when no one else had any paywall,” said Chia Lun Huang, digital transformation director. “Most of the media organisations that launched paywall strategies earlier — in the last decade — were newspapers.

Huang spoke during the INMA Asia/Pacific News Media Summit, sponsored by by Google News InitiativeNotixPiano, and Protecmedia. The summit continues Friday.

Magazines had only jumped on the paywall bandwagon in the last five years as they moved toward digital subscriptions, she said. Magazines have leaned more toward native advertising or events, but CommonWealth felt it was important to get people to pay for content to retain the publication’s status as a high-quality source of economic information.

“We wanted to make sure our content was worthy of people paying for it,” she said. “And we wanted to make sure that the most important department — the editorial team — was part of the transformation process. [With] any other strategy, they would not be as important as a digital subscription strategy.”

Huang broke down the transformation to digital into four basic steps:

  1. Align the commitment to digital subscriptions across departments.
  2. Build new organisational structures.
  3. Learn to use the data.
  4. Adopt a user-centric mindset.

As CommonWealth has embraced its digital future, it has seen the structure and complexion of the company change.

Because experts in digital are usually young, the company has brought in new talent from outside the traditional media industry. It also has implemented cross-functional learning and is working hard to get everyone on board. “What we’re going through is not singular,” Huang said. “Everyone is trying to scramble and find new ways to work.”

The use of data has changed not only how the company measures article success, but it has changed how reporters approach articles to improve their performance. Learning to use data, she said, is a difficult skill to learn — regardless the department.

“As media organisations, we are very fortunate that we have access to a lot of data — but how do we make use of it? It’s a challenge.”

As they learn more about data and how to use it, teams at CommonWealth have implemented some changes. This has led to launching new products, such as the leisure/arts magazine, Off, which Huang said, “probably would not exist if we had continued to work on our perception that we are a serious business magazine.” 

However, the data told a story of what readers were looking for and following the data has paid off. Today, half of the subscriptions are digital, the company is enjoying a younger demographic, and it has increased its female audience.  

In the last two years, CommonWealth has also started launching podcasts as the data showed people “wanted to experience the product through listening.” And it will continue to look at how to reach new audiences through the use of technology and different formats.

“Become data-informed,” Huang advised. “It’s very costly, but it’s an important foundation.”

The summit continues on Friday. Registration is free and includes post-event recordings of the virtual event plus speaker presentations.

About Paula Felps

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