How Le Monde plans to get to 1 million subscribers by 2025

By Shelley Seale

INMA

Austin, Texas, USA

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Le Monde has a goal of reaching one million subscribers by 2025. How?

Lou Grasser, director of subscriptions at Le Monde, detailed what it will take to get there in an INMA member-only Webinar on Wednesday. Grasser shared the milestones in the publisher’s digital transformation with respect to revenue and digital products, highlighting Le Monde’s key performance indicators and targets used to manage business, grow audience revenue, and track towards those goals.

Grasser opened the Webinar by sharing where Le Monde was at the end of 2019, from the beginning of the year.

  • The company grew from 450 to 500 journalists (11% growth year-over-year).
  • It has fewer daily publications (-14%) and more paid content (+26%).
  • Le Monde’s paywall model is freemium, and at the end of 2019, 44% of its content was behind the paywall. This is continuing to increase — in early 2020, Le Monde is already at 55% paid content.
  • 32 million weekly visits (+11%).
  • 226,000 digital subscribers (+26%)
  • 31% revenue is from subscriptions, both print and digital (increasing every year). For digital-only, that revenue figure jumps to 55%.
  • 29% of free visits to the Web site include paid content. Grasser said this is an important figure because it shows nearly one-third of non-subscriber visitors see a subscriber-only article.
  • Subscriber audience doubled in one year.

2017 was the first year Le Monde had more digital than print subscribers, and that number has continued to grow.

“We are really investing in our newsroom,” Grasser said, “especially the digital newsroom. As you can see, we have less publications, but more paid content and more [Web site] visits. We invest in quality journalism — less articles but more quality articles.”

Grasser shared Le Monde’s goal for 2025, which is to reach one million subscribers: “It’s an ambitious goal, but it’s really something we can reach.”

Le Monde has an ambitious goal to reach one million subscribers by 2025.
Le Monde has an ambitious goal to reach one million subscribers by 2025.

How Le Monde will reach one million subscribers by 2025

Grasser explained exactly how Le Monde plans to reach that ambitious goal. The strategy includes three main components:

  • Business-to-consumer (B2C).
  • Business-to-business (B2B).
  • Services such as crosswords, cooking, and apps.

“To get there, and to reach these different types of clients, we plan to keep on having a variety and quality of content,” she said. The team also plans to focus on innovative projects and services.

The main goal is to show readers that paid content is the best value offering. As part of that strategy, Le Monde will offer three distinct digital packages.

  • Basic package, which will mostly just be access to subscriber-only articles.
  • Middle-tier package with additional services and the ability to add one other user to the subscription.
  • Family offer, which will allow access for up to four people and four devices.

Grasser said that with the family offer, they hope to address the problem of single subscribers who then share their log-in details with multiple others. In fact, Le Monde found that 26% of their subscriber accounts had multiple people logged in at the same time, under what was meant to be a single-user account.

People sharing subscriptions was a big problem Le Monde had to address.
People sharing subscriptions was a big problem Le Monde had to address.

The challenges

When the new offerings launched in December 2019, there were numerous challenges Le Monde faced. First, it was a complex and difficult model for the technical team to build. UX teams feared subscriber complaints, and customer support teams were uneasy about the technical complexity, and how to explain it to subscribers.

Another challenge came in the form of journalistic integrity. Restricting sharing was against the philosophy of some Le Monde journalists. Grasser said that the subscription model needed to be thoroughly explained in this instance.

“But it was such a great opportunity to drive growth, according to our top management, that we had to launch it in advance.” Originally, the plan was to roll out the new subscriptions plans in April.

“The subscriptions team had to make sure the project was launched...with a smile,” Grasser said. “So it was quite a challenge for everyone.”

Solving simultaneous reading issues

Le Monde also had to tackle the problem of simultaneous reading, so with the new subscriptions plans technology was put into place that would prevent two unauthorised log-ins at the same time, similar to Spotify.

If a user is logged in and reading an article, and another user logs in on another device with the same credentials, a box will pop up letting the first user know that they must upgrade to another plan in order to allow multiple log-ins. A call-to-action button invites the user to do this.

Le Monde's new technology notifies a reader when someone else logs in on their subscription.
Le Monde's new technology notifies a reader when someone else logs in on their subscription.

Of course, this presented significant technical planning and building. Le Monde used in-house software development along with open source programming. “It’s a really powerful system that can treat 1,000 requests per second, it’s fully scalable, and the most important is that it’s a completely autonomous, plug-and-play system.”

The last is extremely important, in order to apply the system to the various publications under the Le Monde umbrella.

Design objectives

Designing the project also presented several challenges. The team was aware of several important parameters.

  • Make sure users didn’t confuse the pop-up message with advertising.
  • Be clear and concise when explaining the reasons why the pop-up message was displayed.
  • Make the restriction as acceptable as possible and easy for subscribers to understand, as well as demonstrate the value of the offer.

The next step was to test a variety of design options with users. One prototype that did not do well with users was a message that had a lock on it, which sent the wrong message of being locked out. The message needed to be more inviting.

Le Monde began user testing of its new model in December 2019.
Le Monde began user testing of its new model in December 2019.

The way the technology works, is that when the pop-up message happens, the reader is given several choices:

  • They can go back to the article they were reading, in which case the second logged-in user will get the pop-up message.
  • They can continue to upgrade their subscription.
  • They can click a “Why am I seeing this message” link that more thoroughly explains the message and subscription offerings.

“With the design team, we worked a lot on how we can explain in detail why people see this message,” Grasser said. They needed to thoroughly detail that even though a single subscriber may sign in on multiple devices, they could not be logged in at the same time and reading on different devices. There was also an option for the reader if they did not know who another person might be using their account.

Educating readers about why the pop-up was happening and what they could do about it was important.
Educating readers about why the pop-up was happening and what they could do about it was important.

Main KPIs

“When we launched the feature in December, we followed four main KPIs,” Grasser explained.

  • Customer complaints.
  • Number of subscriber accounts seeing the message.
  • Message displays.
  • Number of subscriptions within two days after the message being displayed.

Introduction of the new subscription program began with an e-mail sent to one thousand current subscribers who had the most massive amounts of sharing. The e-mail notified the subscriber that their account had been active on 10 or more different devices in the last week, and suggested that they change their password.

“After this first step, we waited for one month and then we launched the feature,” Grasser said.

The launch process took place over several weeks, with the feature being implemented gradually over those weeks. The first week, Le Monde allowed 10 simultaneous readings per day on one subscriber account. Progressively, that was reduced down to four by week three, then two, and in week six they removed all simultaneous reading capabilities.

After that, the number of simultaneous readings allowed completely depended on the type of subscription the user had. Grasser said that the ensuing customer complaints were closely watched for a good user experience.

These were far fewer than they had anticipated, however. “When we launched with 10 simultaneous readings per day, we had only two customer complaints,” Grasser said.

The progressive launch limiting simultaneous reading was closely monitored for customer complaints.
The progressive launch limiting simultaneous reading was closely monitored for customer complaints.

When they moved to four simultaneous readings allowed, the complaints jumped to 43, and held steady until the restriction against any simultaneous reading. Then, Le Monde had 83 customer complaints per day, and this dropped back down to 43 once the feature was fully implemented, and the simultaneous readings depended on the customer’s subscription package.

Results

Grasser then shared the results of the new subscription programme.

  • 350 customer complaints. “From my point of view, that’s really nothing,” Grasser said. “From other problems, we’ve had 10,000 complaints sometimes.”
  • Qualitative returns. Some people wrote in about why they were sharing their subscription (financial difficulties) and saying the new plan was too expensive for them. This provided good insight and data for Le Monde.
  • Families and couples were some of the main subscribers to the new programmes, along with some business enterprises that took advantage of the B2C programme instead of B2B because it’s less expensive.
  • Many people were asking for solutions.
  • 28% more new subscribers in January versus December at feature launch.
  • In January 2020, Le Monde broke subscription records in both B2C and B2B subscriptions.
  • Stable subscriber audience. The company had projected to see a decrease when the new feature was implemented, but Grasser said that there was no decrease at all.

Grasser thinks much of the reason behind fairly low complaint numbers — besides people being ashamed to admit they were cheating the system — is because they did a good job of explaining the program.

For the businesses that had been on a regular subscription and sharing with the entire company — sometimes thousands of users on a single subscription — while they were reluctant to move up to a B2B plan at first, after the feature fully implemented to disallow simultaneous reading, many of them opted for the B2B subscription. Those subscription numbers rose even more dramatically than the B2C subscriptions.

“We adapted prices and made some discounts for them,” Grasser said.

Next steps

Grasser outlined the next phase of the project, which will roll out in April.

“We’re going to adapt this message to include the new family offer,” she said, giving readers more choices for sharing their subscription.

They also plan to monitor returns and create opportunities to upsell through customer support.

“We are very happy with the results,” Grasser concluded. “We are still feeling the effects of results coming in, but it’s a picture that has been quite well understood. It’s ambitious, but it’s something that is totally reachable.”