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Media companies should focus on reader needs over packages offered

By Robert Okpu

Stockholm, Sweden

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What should news media companies prioritise for growth in 2023? This may depend on who you ask.

During conference sessions on Thursday, day four of the INMA Media Subscriptions Summit in Stockholm, the 355 attendees listened in as Will Page, the former chief economist of Spotify in the UK and author of Tarzan Economics; Robert Skrob, author of Retention Point; and Angelica Velati, head of news, partnerships, and ecosystem strategy EMEA at Google, discussed their ideas on growth priorities.

Page, who spoke earlier in the day on pricing and bundling, was very much for the “everything to everyone offer” approach. But Skrob pointed out this is no ideal universal solution for the media business:

“It may work for a public company that needs to show topline growth or else their stock price is going to plummet,” Skrob said. “For a company that relies on subscriber cash flow in order to strengthen their company, they must have a higher lifetime value. And they need to create that lifetime value by having a selection of prices: some free, some middle-tier, some premium product.

Left to right: Will Page, former chief economist of Spotify in the UK and author of Tarzan Economics; Robert Skrob, author of Retention Point; and Angelica Velati, head of news, partnerships, and ecosystem strategy EMEA at Google.
Left to right: Will Page, former chief economist of Spotify in the UK and author of Tarzan Economics; Robert Skrob, author of Retention Point; and Angelica Velati, head of news, partnerships, and ecosystem strategy EMEA at Google.

“That allows them to vastly increase the average lifetime value of the customer and then reinvest that in the scaling of their acquisition so that they can go beyond the paywall and acquire more subscribers a lot faster.”

While Skrobs advised going for value and the volume will follow, Page recommended media companies focus on volume. And Velati pointed out it’s possible to do both — and said media companies should.

She also remarked on a development that has become more common and probably will continue to become so:

“We see more publishers becoming customer centric,” she said. “Not only asking, ‘What do you want to read,’ but also asking, ‘What do you want to see in this newspaper? And how do you want to see it?’ And then follow up on the feedback that they give you and find ways to be more customer centric.”

Using technology in the right way is also imperative for growth, Velati stressed:

“Your app should be easy to consume. It should be easy to get what you want, easy to subscribe and unsubscribe so that you deliver to the reader what they want and also how they want it.”

The vibrant panel also had engagement from the very qualified and interested audience. Lena K Samuelsson, publisher of Sweden’s largest daily Aftonbladet, reminded attendees that it’s important to remember a brand’s foundation and “square one” — where it all starts in the chase for growth and value:

“We never walk away from the free position,” she said. “We think that is the whole customer base that we can then transform into subscribers. We started very early, charging money for journalism online already in 2003. We used to do a subscription offer like an extra add-on — bot really core news, more like travel guides and health and stuff like that.

“But soon we realised that we have to be Aftonbladet all the way. So we started charging instead for news and sports — that is our core. I think it is important to really be true to the brand all the way — whatever business model you have.”

The panel seemed to agree that the difference for the future is to focus on the customer — and to understand what each type of customer wants. News media companies sometimes are more focused on what is produced: The news, the content, and what packages to offer.

Maybe it’s time to move on.

The INMA Media Subscriptions Summit is March 6-10. Details can be found here.

About Robert Okpu

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