El País reader revenue model adds 1.9 million subscribers

By Mauricio Romero

Bogota, Colombia


The subscription process is the culmination of a comprehensive model of an entire initiative, strategy, and management, as well as the result of the direct relationship with the reader that starts at the moment of audience development,” Noemí Ramírez, chief customer and product officer of Prisa Noticias in Spain, told INMA members during a Webinar last week.

The product team considered that a paywall/subscription model creates a more direct relationship with audiences, a process that officially began in March 2020, a week before Spain went into quarantine. Although COVID-19 did not stop the process, it did postpone it.

“We concluded that it was not advisable to activate a model of these characteristics [charging for content] when there was such a significant demand for information,” Ramírez said. The situation forced to postpone its activation plans (originally for April 2020) for one more month, until May, also taking into account that the information from El País, as a media outlet, is “a public service.”

El País had been working on its subscription model for a while before the pandemic delayed its launch.
El País had been working on its subscription model for a while before the pandemic delayed its launch.

In that period, before making the paywall official, El País management decided not to put articles related to the new coronavirus behind the paywall.

After the activation of the model in Spain, a few more months passed. In October, the company activated the model at its Brazilian edition, where work was done closely with the commercial team to bring specific offers to the audiences and the reality of Latin American markets.

Another milestone in the evolution of the model was the launch of the application for Android-based mobile devices in January 2021. The strategy included a gift, which prompted subscribers to spread the word.

From anonymous subscribers to known audiences

El País’ model was intended to reach a large number of audiences; however, such audiences were unknown.

Between 2015 and 2018, El País made an effort to scale its readership base audience, which would lay the foundation for the subscription model and growth from there new audiences. This reader knowledge model would have to be built with time, which, in turn, would support a new economic model for the company.

“Switching from an unknown audience model to a known user model made a lot of sense for a number of reasons — in the first place, because it is the facilitator of that direct relationship with readers, especially with the faithful ones, and because it laid the foundations to better define the proposal to the subscriber and allowed us to complement it with the advertising model,” Ramírez said.

The model involved e-mail marketing as a way to personally reach readers.
The model involved e-mail marketing as a way to personally reach readers.

This type of initiative goes hand in hand with the media market trends in terms of registration and knowledge of the user to establish a direct relationship, acquire first-party data, and, with it, improve the commercial offer.

This whole process was carried out by sharing the vision of the editorial and commercial areas and thus, together, mitigating the impacts and laying the foundations for subscriptions.

One of the concerns of the newsroom was that, through the subscription model, reach within audiences would be lost since to consume some articles or browse the site, it was necessary to be registered, a concern also shared by the commercial department, which depends on the portal’s traffic.

Once the two parties, commercial and editorial, agreed, they performed incremental experiments to see the results and analyse where loyal audiences were most concentrated, which allowed them to identify that there was not a considerable loss of pageviews (which happened with the opinion section). This strategy was replicated in other areas of the newspaper, especially with content that had some analytical components.

Those efforts were later concentrated on the app, through which El País obtains the bulk of loyal readers.

In this way, the work of the newsroom changed, as editorial team members now work more closely with the data and analytics department, which allows them to make more informed editorial decisions, less based on instinct, as well as analyse results in a more effective fashion.

Notable findings

The team immediately saw positive results as a result of this strategy. In December 2020, still in the middle of a pandemic and only a few months after activating the model, El País grew by 1.9 million subscribers, for a total of 3.3 million registered users — a 7.5-fold growth in registered unique users and an 11-fold increase in page consumption by said subscribed users, as well as an 18% increase in pageviews by registered users and 55% in the application.

Results of the campaign have been positive, with a 55% open rate on communication about the change.
Results of the campaign have been positive, with a 55% open rate on communication about the change.

These are the benefits a user obtains by subscribing to El País:

  • Unlimited access to all content.
  • Access to the print edition replica in the “app.”
  • Better reading experience with reduced advertising.
  • Exclusive preview of opinion content.
  • Comment news and up to three simultaneous accesses.
  • Access to exclusive cultural experiences (Spain).

Results, 11 months after activating the model:

  • 145,000 total subscribers (print and digital)
  • 100,000 digital users
  • 25% of international subscribers
  • 30% annual subscription

INMA Webinars are free to INMA members. A schedule of upcoming Webinars can be found here. 

About Mauricio Romero

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