Deciding what to charge customers to subscribe to your product is a difficult decision. Media companies don’t want to charge too much and not have enough takers, and they don’t want to charge too little and not make enough revenue.
“As you get bigger and bigger as a subscription business, it gets harder and there’s more churn, more people who leave from that base,” Patrick Appel, director of research for Piano, told attendees at the INMA Media Subscriptions Summit on Thursday. “It requires deeper levels of sophistication and targeting, how you experiment, and how you analyse experiments.”
Four media companies shared their pricing strategies with attendees.
Since 2009, South Africa’s Daily Maverick has grown from five employees working in a single room to becoming a highly trusted publication with more than 100 workers. And its reputation has grown as quickly as its ranks; in 2019 it was the co-recipient of the Global Shining Light Award for investigative journalism.
As part of its membership, the company turned to a membership model, CEO Styli Charalambous told INMA members.
“Our vision is for people to know more and to know better,” he said. “We wanted to keep our journalism free for those who can’t afford to pay. And in a country like South Africa, with 25% unemployment and 70% youth unemployment, that’s a lot of people.”
There are differences in attracting paywall customers vs. members: Paywall subscribers are paying for access to content, while members are there to join a cause that they believe in. Because of that, marketing for the Daily Maverick memberships was more emotive and appealed to the idea of joining a cause. But to attract members, it was important to make sure the journalism was worth supporting.
“That’s foundational to any subscription or any membership programme. You’ve got to be producing a quality product that is incentive for people to want to support in some way, shape, or form.”
It’s also important for members to get something out of their donation. Before creating an offer, the Daily Maverick asked readers to vote on which benefits they would most value in a membership programme. Then, it used those responses to prioritise its offerings.
It also created a slider at the launch of the programme that illustrated the freedom of choice in terms of choosing a price; then it offered incentives to encourage higher contributions.
Corriere della Sera
Part of the RCS Media gropu, Corriere della Sera, based in Milan, is Italy’s most-read newspaper. In the past two years, digital subscriptions have grown 125%, due primarily to the pandemic.
Corriere della Sera started its metered paywall model in 2016 and has more than 4 million unique users per day and more than 340 million pageviews each month.
“What we decided in the chaotic days in February 2020 was to keep all the content related to COVID under the paywall and to lower the price,” explained Maria Sgromo, head of subscriptions at RCS.
To keep those readers, the company did a lot of tests around converting those who hit the paywall. The answer to converting them was a timely offer to subscribe — one that lasted for just 24 hours.
“We measured that our conversion rates started to increase three to four times without losing the value,” she said. “A lot of people decided to do longer subscriptions.”
In 2013, Germamy’s Bild had a separate offer page on its site with three different offers.
“What we learned throughout the years was to keep it a lot simpler,” Daniel Mussinghoff, director premium for Bild. The company keeps slimming down its offers, getting rid of any add-ons.
“We decided to include [a] benefit in the basic main product without charging more for it,” Mussinghoff said. “It was helping reduce churn and driving engagement for those customers.”
Bild took it a step further and got rid of two products that were targeting a small niche of customers. When they did A/B tests on the offer page, Bild found it wasn’t worth the potential revenue uplift gained by those higher price points. They actually made more on conversions with fewer products. They then had an offer page where just one product was presented to the customer, and soon after that, they made another cut.
“We took it one step further last year and got rid of the offer page itself and the checkout process and placed the offer right on the article,” Mussinghoff said. “We get most of our new subscribers through daily articles on our Web site, through headlines that sell. The less we distract them, of course, the faster they go through the checkout and back to the article they want to read.”
In its efforts to always continue improving and growing, Norway’s Dagbladet is investing heavily in free sites while also investing in digital subscriptions. Alexandra Beverfjord, editor-in-chief and chief executive officer of Dagbladet, explained that the company is growing in unique users and Web TV, while the free site has grown from 55,000 users in 2018 to 80,000 today.
Much of this growth, she said, comes from its heavy investment in content.
While Dagbladet has worked for many years to analyse what works on the front page for the pay edition, it can be difficult to understand what makes a reader buy a digital subscription. That led to creating a toolbox to help journalists find the right content.
“It was an extensive amount of work where the editors spent a lot of time analysing what kind of journalism worked and what kind of content did not work,” she said. “We tried to figure out how we could make our journalism work even better.”
She shared a toolbox of nine different areas — from news for use to celebrity interviews to consumer tests — helps grow paid content as well as free engagement.
The Summit wraps up on Thursday, February 15. You can register here.