Value of journalism, not giveaways, lure long-term subscribers

By Nathaniel Bane

Herald Sun

Melbourne, Australia


People subscribe to news services for a host of reasons: to stay informed, connect with their community, be entertained, and bond over a shared world view.

In large numbers, they also subscribe for the free steak knives.

Media companies can attempt to engage readers through a host of means, but high-quality journalism is what makes them stick around.
Media companies can attempt to engage readers through a host of means, but high-quality journalism is what makes them stick around.

Giveaways or price-cut offers aren’t new in the subscription game. They help hit targets and get new people through the door. But if steak knives are too over-indexed in your plan, you have a problem.

Giveaways fuel churn. It’s established readers who subscribe based on content who are stickier. Customers who don’t are a flight risk, leaving because they don’t see the ongoing value of journalism.

This is the No. 1 headache for news services, often dividing internal departments over how best to tackle it.

Journalists and the editorial teams connected to them have rarely needed to step outside their areas of expertise. But as the model for news changes, it’s becoming apparent there’s a need to.

Publishers today must demonstrate the value of what they do. Why journalism matters.

What better way to market a subscription than the core reason a publisher exists? Content and the people that make that content.

One thing newsrooms have in spades is a strong sense of value in content and journalism, pride in the craft. It’s why journalists, photographers, editors, and video journalists work long hours and often put themselves in harm’s way to tell a yarn.

Journalists put their heart and soul into their profession for good reason. Holding governments and authorities accountable, bringing attention to the plight of people in need, celebrating achievements and sacrifices, giving people a laugh, or challenging their perspective is pivotal to a healthy society. It’s important for people to know what’s going on around them to make better decisions and improve their own lives.

Whether you agree with a publisher’s world view or not, good old-fashioned journalism — reporters out knocking on doors, asking hard questions, covering disasters, digging for the truth — is beneficial for us all.

Capturing this driving force for journalism and playing it back to a wider audience helps build a powerful concept of value. Publishers need to be up front and loud about this.

Many readers don’t get to see the full depth and breadth of what publishers do every day to inform, entertain, and advocate on behalf of their readers.

Nobody else is going to do this. It’s a publisher’s role to market itself.

Newspapers building a digital news business only need to look as far as TV stations to learn how to be successful at self-promotion. This should be no different for traditional publishers. After all, we have a very good story to tell.

About Nathaniel Bane

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