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News subscription leaders share key growth strategies

By Robert Okpu

Stockholm, Sweden


What are the growth strategies and engines of the world’s news subscription leaders?

At INMA’s Media Subscriptions Summit last week in Stockholm, top newspaper brands like El Pais, Le Monde, and The Washington Post shared insights.

Their specific details are important and interesting, of course. But their bottom line: Try to do whatever works.

El Pais starts late but catches up 

El Pais is a Spanish publisher founded 46 years ago with newsrooms in Spain and Latin America. Some years ago, El Pais was not regarded as an organisation that was considered ahead of the curve. It’s paywall was activated first in May 2020.

But since then, El Pais has surpassed 250,000 digital subscribers.

El Pais makes good use of the data explaining what helps with subscriber churn.
El Pais makes good use of the data explaining what helps with subscriber churn.

Luis Baena Reig is chief marketing officer at El Pais. Part of his advice is that what an organisation does need not always be new or innovative practice. The most important thing is that it actually works for the organisation.

“We know that engagement is key,” Reig said. “This is something that most of us know. Those subscribers that subscribe to newsletters, which in our case is like 60%, have 24% less churn. Those that subscribe to our premium newsletters, only available for subscribers, have 29% less churn. And those that use our loyalty schemes with additional benefits have 30% less churn.”

El Pais also prioritises audience segments.

We use multiple segments,” he said. “For each segment, obviously, we design different actions and we monitor those actions. We see how different segments migrate from one to another, under a life cycle”.

El Pais way of working is rather run-of-the-mill. But, it works.

“We try not to focus on just one KPI but on all KPIs and get these into a cocktail maker that we then try to calibrate in the best way we can,” Baena Reig said. “This is a metric that is used by the subscription team. It’s also used by the newsroom. It’s used by the marketing team. It’s used by everyone. And basically, the output of this is to do more of what works and less of what does not work. It’s that simple.”

Le Monde aims for 1 million subscribers by 2025

France’s Le Monde has surpassed 540,000 subscribers and has a defined goal of reaching one million subscribers by 2025, including its newly launched English edition. 

Some methods Le Monde has used to improve its numbers are amazingly simple — like the reduction of the quantity of available text above the app paywall.

Le Monde reduced how much of an article readers could view on its app.
Le Monde reduced how much of an article readers could view on its app.

Le Monde’s Director of Subscriptions Lou Grasser got laughter from the audience in Stockholm when she told the following story: 

“I met the general manager of a well known tech company. He told me very nicely, ‘I love your application. I am reading it every day.’ And I remarked, ‘So you are a subscriber!?’ He said: ‘No, the text above the paywall is enough for me.’”

Of course, this is an anecdote not representative of all the work the Le Monde team has put into most areas of its model. It’s just a reminder that the importance of attention to detail should not be underestimated. Sometimes people working on projects do not see the forest because of all the trees.

The Washington Post thrives on company, not siloed, goals

Michael Ribero, chief subscriptions officer of The Washington Post, started his presentation with this on his first slide: “Teamwork makes the dream work.”

Ribero started off his career at The Washington Post by telling his CFO: “I want to have the best Black Friday offer  in the history of The Post and sell a yearly subscription for 99 cents. I promise that this will pay off down the road.”

It did. 

Ribero is a former investment banker. During his relatively short time at The Washington Post so far, the subscriptions team has evolved from a team with 20% non-journalism experience to a team of 80% non-journalism experience (but more tech savvy). 

The way The Washington Post manages and brings together its teams has changed company culture.
The way The Washington Post manages and brings together its teams has changed company culture.

Ribero summarises the change in modus operandi in the way the media company is working with subscriptions: 

“What has really manifested this year is that we used to plan our work on a silo basis. The newsroom would get goals, advertising would get goals. Now we come together as an executive team and really plan as an organisation. We state the company goals, and those goals are ultimately filtered down to individuals. Having that, and documenting that, has provided a clarity that did not exist before. People are energised by that.”

About Robert Okpu

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