As news media companies turn their business models toward a reader revenue model, sometimes their strategies must shift to go beyond their super users.
On Thursday during Module 2 of INMA’s Subscriptions Media Summit, executives from The Athletic, La Nacion, and Newsday shared how data, experimentation, rethinking revenue streams, and audience retention helped their companies grow audiences.
The Athletic’s subscription journey began in 2016 with the fundamental desire to fill a void of premium content, Chief Content Officer Paul Fichtenbaum told INMA members. The media company, based in the United States and the United Kingdom, is a subscription-based, ad-free, digital-only sports site.
Many outlets in the sports world were pulling back on coverage and relying on aggregation. Those businesses were attached to advertising dollars. The Athletic went a different direction with a subscription model.
“I think you’ll probably agree a subscription model is a slow grower, but it’s also a very dependable user base if you create content that is valuable and that’s really the key,” Fichtenbaum said.
The original plan was to provide a boutique site with premium coverage for super fans. That would have certainly been an easier route to go, but would have provided a much narrower path moving forward.
“We understood the massive opportunity in front of us to not only create best-in-class premium content, but also appeal to a much wider audience,” Fichtenbaum said.
The Athletic then wanted to capitalise on its large audience by adding a second revenue stream through sponsorship. In early 2020, The Athletic decided to offer another product for free. That content was supported by sponsorship and it helped drive people to the premium paid content The Athletic had to offer. They were careful, though, to make sure the content was complimentary to their brand, meaning high-level news.
“We did that by using our newsroom, which I believe is the largest sports newsroom in North America,” Fichtenbaum said. “We brought in experts to analyse and weigh in on the meaning of news and immediately we knew this was a very powerful approach.”
Fichtenbaum says they not only were able to create a free product, but a free product that was in line with the premium content strategy for The Athletic. From there, after months of success, they added yet another layer to their strategy by paying closer attention to search so they could capture readers from Google and showcase all their hard work.
“This was another avenue for us to grow our audience,” Fichtenbaum said.
At La Nacion, considered the newspaper of record in Argentina, when the team thinks about acquisition strategy, they base it on a foundation of three main parts, including digital and non-digital channels.
Head of Subscription Acquisition Agustina Roncaglione led INMA members through this three components of this strategy:
1. The what: value proposition. A strong content proposition based on informative integrity, which is a continuous evolution. In addition, a benefits club that grows in discounts and geographical reach.
Club La Nacion is the most important benefit programme in the country, with more than 3,000 active benefits. They were pioneers in generating a strong link and sense of belonging between their content and readers.
“The key is having Club La Nacion as a proposition gives us the possibility to reach more distant audiences with highly valuable discount options,” Roncaglione said. “In addition, it offers a completely digital experience with the app.”
Based on this value proposition, La Nacion has a variety of subscription offerings including digital-only and digital plus Club La Nacion. They have also launched a family plan that allows for more than one user access.
2. The who: audience segmentation. The knowledge of the potential audience through their behaviour on the Web site or their interests in benefits allows the team to define messaging and ideal offers.
“We do different segmentations of the audience by looking at their frequency of views, paywall hits, and what type of interests they consume,” Roncaglione explained. “All of this gives us the information to know which of our offers are more likely to [be of interest], whether that’s digital access or digital access plus Club La Nacion.”
3. The where: channel development. Search for channels that allow them to generate new subscribers with high quality.
Once the offer has been defined according to audience segmentation, the sales channels have different messages and options that leverage the attraction of subscribers.
Organic channels account for 40% of sales. This includes the paywall, subscribe button, and apps.
Non-organic channels account for 60% of sales, including digital, mixed, and non-digital.
“Looking deeper into our organic channels, our site has 12 free credits to consume content every 28 days,” Roncaglione said. “Offering these credits allows us to analyse the impact of different categories that have a greater potential for subscription, and we are able to assign more credits to them to approach the paywall faster.”
Newsday, a regional newspaper based in Long Island, New York, is among the many newspapers that enjoyed massive growth in digital subscriptions during 2020 and into 2021. Patrick Tornabene, Newsday’s chief consumer revenue and strategy officer, discussed how the company is strategically looking at growth in a post-pandemic world.
In looking at its subscriber base, Newsday found 17% were heavy readers, 69% were light readers, and 14% were sleepers. Heavy readers, they found, preferred content like breaking news, crime, top stories, and politics, while light readers tended to read topics like people, community news, obituaries, and real estate.
Newsday developed its retention strategy based on what its churn modeling has shown, Tornabene said: “We do an extensive amount of predictive analytics that informs our retention strategy.” He linked each of the five retention drivers to human life expectancy to illustrate which points are most critical:
As an analogy to human life expectancy, from a retention standpoint, there has been a lot of focus on engagement as a driver — but Newsday has found it isn’t the greatest driver of retention, he said: “It is a variable, but not the largest one.”
The Summit continues Tuesdays and Thursdays through February 15. You can register here.