Despite widespread concerns from publishers about declining engagement online, in reality, audiences have just resumed their normal behaviour, according to INMA’s Readers First Initiative Lead Greg Piechota. During the Subscription Growth Master Class, Piechota shared findings from a study of 175 international news media companies.
“Basically the levels of engagement just returned to pre-pandemic levels,” he said. “This is just going back to normalcy. We all moved on from the pandemic and started to live our lives.”
And normalcy means people aren’t checking the news as frequently. However, after a temporary slowdown in 2022, publishers are seeing growth again.
To grow reader revenue, publishers may accelerate acquisitions, grow the revenue per subscriber, or delay churn. But all readers are not created equal, and while converting early adopters and heavy users can provide revenue-generating low-hanging fruit, publishers must also have a strategy that reaches mainstream and casual readers.
“This balancing act is a very difficult problem,” Piechota said, noting the importance of revenue has become more closely linked with volume growth. And that creates new opportunities for news media companies.
Overall, the outlook for publishers is good, he concluded: “Engagement with online news globally is back to 2019 levels.” Now, news publishers need to choose their strategy for growing digital subscriptions.
During the master class, media leaders from Newsday, NWT Media, and NZME shared how their companies are working to boost their digital subscriptions.
Newsday reaches new readers
Newsday in Long Island, New York, has made great strides in growing its subscription base by focusing on content, making sure the newsroom is data-informed, and paying attention to its diverse and ever changing audience, Debby Krenek, the company’s publisher, said.
“We really listen to our audience,” Krenek said. “It’s key important to do that and it’s key important to react and change quickly, and we understand the issues and all of that is changing. The platforms that people are on are changing, the issues they have are changing.”
Newsday is spending a lot of time talking with their audience and communities through surveys and focus groups to see where it is doing well with diversity and coverage needs and what areas need work.
Krenek says the meetings with the minority Millennials were tough. They sat down for three hours with the group and asked them to be honest about Newsday’s coverage.
“While we thought there were a lot of things that we were doing well, the honest truth is that they thought that there were many things that we just didn’t understand and were doing poorly,” Krenek said. “So we spent a lot of time looking at our coverage, the types of things we were covering, the people that we showed in our coverage, the sources that we used in our coverage, and we made a lot of changes.”
It took a lot of effort and a lot of time but they also made sure to check back in with the minority Millennial group after six months, then a year and so on, Krenek said. In the most recent meeting a few months ago, they learned all of the participants are now Newsday subscribers: “They are young, they are quite interested in politics and the future of Long Island, which is really a keen thing for young groups on Long Island.”
NWT Media collaborates internally
Coming out of the pandemic, NWT Media in Sweden realised its audience skewed strongly toward older age groups. To those under age 45, “we were basically not relevant,” Patric Hamsch, deputy head of media, said. The challenge, starting in 2021, was to change that.
One important step in the challenge was the creation of “Premium Teams.” These are partnerships between the newsroom and marketing departments in which a reporter, a digital editor from the corporate development department, a marketing coordinator, plus staff from data and product collaborate very closely on a specific project. This could be a breaking news story, a human interest piece, or a longer investigative story.
“It’s all about the journalism, the content,” Hamsch said, “but the content gets help from specialists in other departments. Team members have shared objectives and take common responsibility for the outcome. When we work together we have amazing results.”
Since results have been so positive, he said they try to create a Premium Team whenever they can and “have the resources for.” These teams aren’t permanent. They may be put together quickly for a breaking news story or organised well in advance of a planned story.
NWT has put together more than 200 Premium Teams since May 2022, with all 16 newsrooms participating. The majority of new paying subscribers gained from these efforts are in the under-45 age group.
In 2020, New Zealand Media and Entertainment (NZME) launched its three-year strategy to grow its digital subscriptions. Carolyn Adams, general manager of subscriber revenue, said the company developed three key strategies:
- Enhance its value proposition.
- Launch new verticals.
- Institute strategic pricing.
To address strategic pricing, NZME has tested lower introductory prices as well as different lengths of introductory offers to see what works best.
“One of our objectives is to get people up to our standard price, which is A$5 per week as soon as possible,” Adams said. “We are currently testing the step-up pricing, moving people from A$1.50 per week for eight weeks and maybe a little bit more for another eight weeks until we move them up. Then we’ll see what impact that has on retention because our objective is still to increase the retention rate at one year for those people.”
The longer the introductory period, the better the churn rate is, Adams said: “So we are very much trying to optimise that.”