While 2020 was a challenging year on virtually every level, it also yielded some incredible growth opportunities for publishers. And among the lessons learned as companies scrambled to adjust to business operations in a global pandemic is that sustainability is a team sport.
“These changes that are needed in order to bring our industry forward … come by all of us going forward together,” said David Grant, Facebook Accelerator’s programme manager, during Thursday’s INMA Media Subscriptions Summit 4.0.
That, he said, is the spirit of the Facebook Accelerator, which brings together 15-20 publishers in the same market to focus on the challenge of reader revenue. Together, with help from a coach and grant funding, they look at solutions to the obstacles they need to overcome.
While each market has its individual characteristics, certain universal essentials have emerged as being key to publishers’ success. During his talk, Grant addressed five of those during his presentation:
- Get everyone in the canoe: Grant pointed to Funke Medien Gruppe, which wanted to double its daily subscription growth. To do that, they identified new team configurations and aligned them around that goal. As a result of that alignment, Funke Medien Gruppe enjoyed a 45% increase in paid subscriptions, a 53% increase in conversion rates, and a 143% increase in newsletter subscriptions.
- Make data-inspired decisions: As an example, Grant pointed to La Presse, a French-language publication in the Quebec area that sought to hone its donation messaging. To test what worked best, they ran tests on two types of messaging, allowing the company to hit its annual goal by April and end the year 66% above its annual projections.
- Obsess over UX: One-third of newspapers require customers to re-type a password to sign up for a newsletter, and that 4% ask for the user's marital status. These are not necessary nor good for the user experience.
- Maximise return across the demand curve: Before becoming a non-profit organisation, the Salt Lake Tribune offered a "supportive subscription” that cost US$7.99 per month, but also allowed a monthly donation of up to US$8 more. In 2020, 50% of digital subscribers made monthly donations
- Truly listen and take action: CentreFrance did just that with Bonjour Marianne, a chatbot that provides information on stories and hosted discussions. The newsroom created 10 stories a week for Marianne to share and discuss, then used news stories to encourage readers to sign up. During the elections, 15,000 readers signed up for discussions and COVID-19 saw more than 10,000 additional users signing up.
News Corp Australia
For publishers who wonder what a post-COVID future might look like, Brendan Collogan offered some insight . After enjoying a “COVID bump” in subscriptions last year, many publishers may now face challenges to retain or grow audiences.
“Like many publishers, we experienced record growth [last year],” Collogan, general manager digital consumer revenue for News Corp Australia, said.
Now, as the country settles back into a new normal, the company is looking at a dual growth strategy.
Currently across its titles, News Corp Australia has about 750,000 subscribers and hopes to raise that to 800,000 by the end of FY 2021. By the end of FY2022, Collogan said they hope to reach the 1 million mark.
But much of the growth in the past year was due to the news cycle, and by the end of 2020, the company was noticing a reduction that took them to pre-COVID levels. In response to that building apathy toward news, News Corp wanted to create a platform that would accelerate the growth it had seen earlier in the year. It began with changing what they were measuring.
“We wanted to measure our success based on growth potential and not growth performance,” he said. To do that, he said, they needed to execute growth in two ways: from the inside-out and the outside-in.
Inside-out growth is based on understanding your current audience and being able to shift the mix of content while at the same time enhancing the product experience to improve conversion and engagement.
Outside-in growth is about identifying new audience segments and creating products to meet their needs. Although News Corp Australia has leaned heavily toward inside-out growth, it is now focusing on outside-in growth.
He cautioned publishers against using the same team to work on outside-in growth and inside-out growth, because the skills required for each one are different.
“Asking the same team to focus on … reducing tomorrow’s churn in addition to identifying growth and developing new propositions is very problematic.”
When Die Presse, the newspaper of record for Austria, introduced its paywall in 2017, it found rapid success. “Basically from one day to another we said, 'Hey, everybody, now you need to pay for our content.’ And people started paying, which was impressive,” Stefan Körner, chief operating officer at Die Presse, said.
That became the foundation of the company’s digital strategy, which was bolstered in 2019 by the creation of a specific digital product that was designed specifically to generate revenue. That product successfully attracted 33,000 paying digital subscribers, which Körner said is “a considerable number” for their market. Now, as 2021 unfolds, Die Presse is continuing its digital transformation and Körner shared how the company identified what path it needed to take and how it developed its strategy.
Die Presse focused on four areas: data, technology, people, and product as part of its growth. All four of these areas were brought together by strategy, but as the company analysed every aspect of its digital products, it realised it had made many mistakes in its early digital strategies.
“At a certain point, we needed to realise that what we were doing was CRAP,” he said. In essence, that CRAP analytics was:
“This got us to build a data centre that got us from a place of using CRAP analytics to come to a state of seeing, thinking, and feeling data, which is a much better state,” Körner said.