Fast experimentation, attention-grabbing campaigns, new product development — news media companies around the world are evaluating and improving their offers to attract and retain subscribers in an increasingly crowded market.
Speakers from Gazeta Wyborcza, The Business Times, Expressen, The Telegraph, Funke Media Group, and Amedia shared how their companies were innovating to drive digital subscription acquisition during the INMA Digital Subscription Acquisition Master Class, part of INMA’s Readers First Initiative lead by Greg Piechota, in November.
When the group Women’s Polish Strike organised to protest restrictive new abortion laws, Wyborcza.pl saw an opportunity to support the cause while also growing its readership, creating a subscription campaign built around the protest.
“The most popular slogan on the banners was Wypierdalac, which means ‘fuck off,’” Dorota Adamczyk-Mroczek, chief revenue officer, said. “So it inspired us to prepare — in just one day — a marketing campaign named Fuck Off.”
The idea was simple: Each time someone bought a new subscription, Wyborcza donated all the money to Polish Women’s Strike. In just one week, it gained 10,000 new subscribers and donated €150,000 (US$171,770) to the organisation. Of those subscribers, 2,100 chose the monthly recurring plan and about 50% were quarterly subscriptions.
The campaigns were a good way to attract subscribers, Adamczyk, but the company is still looking at how to convince them to stay longer: “Of course, the main message is that it is worth it to stay true to your values because it will pay off.”
The Business Times
Leveraging a flexible paywall, The Business Times in Singapore created a virtual open house for its 45th anniversary to drive registration. Tee Zhuo, audience strategist at BT, said the key is to make registrations low-barrier.
“It’s the first step in creating a longer-term relationship with your readers,” Zhuo said.
After lowering the paywall to registered users for one week, BT saw an 80% increase of new registered users compared to past similar periods. Zhuo believes getting people registered helps them down the audience funnel of getting them to eventually subscribe.
“It introduces a category for people that might be really interested in your journalism but not yet ready to pay,” Zhuo said. “It’s that halfway ground between being completely unknown to you as an anonymous browser and a group that you can then target with specific initiatives or tactics to create habits around reading your journalism.”
In 2021, Expressen joined the Nordic Reader Revenue Accelerator programme, an initiative through the Facebook Journalism Project launched to help newsrooms accelerate digital subscriptions.
“We were challenged to take the learnings of the programme and test all the time, and use the data to come up with more tests and analysis on what we should do next,” Helena Sund, editor of premium at Expressen, said.
Sund’s team expected that they needed to make big changes to see measurable results, but the accelerator programme is supposed to be fast, and big changes take too long and involve too many people. During the programme, the company ran five different tests around targeting former subscribers, multiple offers, its squeeze page, and a call-to-action button.
“Just try a small change for a short period of time and see what happens,” Sund said. “You can always roll back, but you can always learn from it or get really great results.”
The Telegraph launched its subscriptions-first strategy in 2017, setting a goal to reach 1 million subscribers and 10 million registered customers by 2023. Newsletters are a key part of this strategy.
“Last year we sent about 800 million newsletters, and we found they’re a really effective tool to getting toward that 1 million subscribers,” Michelle Brister, head of newsletters, said.
The Telegraph has a portfolio of 42 newsletters structured around three different purposes: onsite retention, inbox engagement for registrants, and inbox engagement for subscribers.
Onsite retention newsletters aim to drive high click-through rates. These include frequent briefings or personalised recommendations. The Telegraph launched its first vertical-specific personalised newsletter in May focused on Culture, and has since launched News, Politics, and Football.
“These newsletters are really aimed at sending more registrants to the site, and also ensuring our subscribers get the most relevant content,” Brister said. “These newsletters have got some of our highest engagement rates.”
Funke Media Group
Price testing for products and subscriptions supports strong acquisition and retention strategies Funke Media Group in Germany launched a price testing project to increase the monthly subscription price by 25%, and 5% if paid annually. Before the price increase, Funke did not offer an annual subscription. The company directly reached out to customers in its research phase to understand how to improve its product.
“It turned out lots of people hated our ads,” Sarah Barth, the company’s senior conversion manager, said. “Not only the ads themselves, but how they were presented over the entire website, and how they would make the website bounce while loading, which is terrible UX (user experience).”
After listening to its customers, Funke decided reducing the ads by 70% was the way to justify a price increase of 25%, Barth said: “We were able, after we reduced the ads for our subscribers, to drive the churn number down by 13%.”
Amedia in Norway recognised its users needed a single subscription and log-in across its multiple local titles. As a need for information rose dramatically amid the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020, the company decided to give all its existing customers a gift: one month of free access to all 73 of Amedia’s local newspapers. To get the content, users had to register, but Amedia made access easy with a single sign-in.
“We had a hypothesis that this would be an attractive offer, but we didn’t really know what to expect,” Ole Werring, chief product officer, said. “We hoped for 50,000 upgrades, which was quite ambitious.”
Amedia not only reached that goal, but surpassed it, with 170,000 subscribers signing up for the offer during the free test period. Today, +Alt has 140,000 paying subscribers, with approximately 40,000 of those being upsells from existing customers, and 100,000 being brand new Amedia subscribers.
With proof of the power of this offering, the company continued to develop it into what is now called +Alt. Werring said the product has not only been impactful for customers, but internally, as well: “This is a product that most developers in our organisation contribute to in one way or another, and that everyone in the company knows the importance of.”