Rereading the notes from INMA’s 2019 Media Subscription Week, I’ve been comparing the notes of someone who has only been in the reader revenue business for nearly four months with those who have worked in the sector for several years and accumulated tens of thousands of digital subscribers. Based on this study, we conclude that:

  • We are doing well.
  • The planet’s readers resemble each other more than we might think.
Charging for online content works if media companies charge for the right kind of content.
Charging for online content works if media companies charge for the right kind of content.

There is one thing in particular that is similar among Aftenposten (Schibsted), Amedia, and Mittmedia: The three publishing houses have editorial development teams. They are small groups of six to 10 people with editorial experience, but also knowledge about product development, strategy, and project management. Their job is to analyse what content converts subscriptions, what scares readers, and what is most appreciated by existing subscribers — therefore helping to combat churn.

In all three cases, the methodology of work is similar to that of a start-up company: Test with small experiments, fight with the numbers, try to draw patterns and conclusions, communicate results to the rest of the newsroom, and continue testing.

Their conclusions are not far from the small conclusions we are taking after a few weeks of closing content. In my opinion, there are two types of valuable content for the subscription model:

  1. Content reinforcing the brand and articles we are really proud of in which our readers perceive the newspaper’s importance as a key piece of the community such as investigative journalism, denunciation, and human rights themes.
  2. Useful journalism that guides readers and helps them make decisions or solve day-to-day problems.

The analytics demonstrate the content generating subscriptions are the second kind noted. But in different market research, subscribers value the former more. That is, the second type of content generates subscriptions directly, while the first helps improve the perception the readers have of the newspaper, and it is also necessary to generate subscriptions.

We’ve also learned what scares readers off (so it’s not even worth publishing online):

  1. Messages politicians want spread in their permanent electoral campaign.
  2. Stories written mainly for the sources, not for the readers.
  3. Clickbait stories.

At the end of the day, my recommendation is to avoid writing stories because you need to fill a certain number of pages in tomorrow’s newspaper, or, worse, because you have to generate a certain number of unique users with little value.

It seems easy, even if it is not. But of course, it is not impossible.