With the goal of 1 million subscribers by 2023 in its crosshairs, Le Monde last June launched new subscription offers — both to increase readership and to cut down on the number of accounts that were being illegally used by multiple readers. Overall, the initiative has been a success, but Le Monde is constantly assessing and testing, and there is little that is set in stone.
INMA members were able to see how Le Monde’s project is going during a recent members-only Webinar with the company’s director of subscriptions, Lou Grasser. In addition, Gaël Hurlimann, director of subscriptions at Ringier, shared how they are using the needs of readers to attract more digital subscribers.
Le Monde, France
With their ongoing reevaluation and questioning of their offers, Grasser and Hurlimann both illustrated that subscriber recruitment and retention is as much art as it is science and requires constant recalibration.
Before the revamp, Le Monde’s roughly 364,000 paying readers had three options:
- An all-digital subscription for €9.90 per month.
- A combined digital and print subscription for €24.90 per month.
- A weekend offering for €19 per month.
The Web page with the trio of offers did little to explain the difference between the models or the benefits of each.
The team at Le Monde knew they needed to make a change, but that’s where their clarity ended. It took them nearly two years to agree on new pricing plans, but eventually they landed on three digital subscription options:
- The “essential” for €9.99 per month, which includes one account.
- The “complete” for €19.99 per month, which includes two separate user logins.
- And the “family” package for €29.99 a month, which allows for four separate user IDs.
They also offered two app-based plans which are 30% more expensive than the equivalent Web subscriptions.
“We wanted to meet the different needs of our readers, but in doing so we also created complexity,” Grasser said, explaining that the churn rate is worse on the family and complete accounts, and the team wonders if it’s because of the higher price. Her team continues to consider a single subscription plan, in the vein of The New York Times.
The decision to come up with multi-user accounts grew out of the realisation in 2019 that nearly 26% of subscribers were sharing their accounts, a reality that Grasser referred to as “fairly widespread fraud.”
For these multi-user accounts to make any sense, though, Le Monde needed to be able to see who was logging into the site and from where. The team developed software that allowed them to do exactly that —and to limit use.
“The restrictions can be done very precisely and can be done at the subscriber account level,” Grasser said. “It was really a prerequisite for implementing our multi-account offers.”
Now, if a second person logs on to an account being used on another device, the initial user will get a pop-up message informing them that only one person is allowed to use the account at a time and inviting them to buy a new membership or to upgrade their existing subscription. The message covers the screen, preventing the initial user from being able to read the site.
The initiative has been a success. The software was rolled out in December 2019, and a month later B2B subscriptions had multiplied fivefold. “It really was unprecedented,” Grasser said.
Le Monde also shortened the length of its free trial period, from one month to one week. That led to a slump in recruitment but it brought an explosion in the number of new subscribers. “We really had a lot more people converting after a week than after a month,” Grasser said.
They’ve managed to hold on to the bulk of accounts they garnered during the first lockdown in France. In March 2020, the number of visits to the subscription page doubled and hasn’t dipped since, Grasser said. To achieve that result, they cut back on the number of direct promotional offers while increasingly their media buys.
Grasser and her colleagues are always looking ahead, analysing the data and searching for areas for improvement. A big one on the table is Web performance, which Grasser called “the real North Star” for Le Monde’s technical, marketing, and editorial teams. Grasser said they can’t prove a link between improved Web performance and climbing subscription rates, since to test that they would have to slow the performance of some pages and they obviously don’t want to do that. But they believe they go hand-in-hand.
The media company undertook focused Web performance improvements in 2018; that year they saw a 4% increase in new subscribers over 2017 and in 2019, a 45% increase over 2017. “It’s huge,” Grasser said. “We really talk about [Web performance] every day.”
They are also in the process of rolling out a redesign of the app. “It’s an application that works pretty well, but we said to ourselves that we could do even better,” Grasser said. Her teams are working on highlighting new editorial activity, spotlighting the diversity of their content, and finding ways to add value for subscribers. Other priorities include securing their content so that it can’t be fraudulently shared or exploited by bots.
Gaël Hurlimann, director of subscriptions for Switzerland’s Ringier group, shared with Webinar attendees that he doesn’t just look at numbers but also at types of users. He broke those users into these categories: casual, loyal, brand lovers, and registered users.
Ringier’s editorial, tech, commercial, and service teams all work together to get people as deep into that tunnel as possible, he said.
Hurlimann didn’t stop there but categorised subscribers into three groups:
- Those with high propensity for churn.
- Those with low propensity for churn.
- Ambassadors who would talk about the brand.
Each category of reader and subscriber should be approached slightly differently, Hurlimann said: “You need to be strategic about when you ask your customer to move to the next level.” As an example, he referred to an ad for a publication that asked readers to download the app: “They asked for an action that, for me … is intended for [readers] that already have some degree of loyalty.”