Nikkei improved subscriber retention with 3-question survey

By Yosuke Suzuki

Nikkei America

Palo Alto, California, US

Nikkei launched the Nikkei online edition, Nikkei.com, in March 2010, which means it has just now reached its 10th anniversary.  Since its launch, the online edition has shown steady, consistent subscriber growth, maintaining a solid upward trajectory.  Nikkei.com currently boasts 700,000 paid subscriptions. 

One reason for Nikkei.com’s steady growth is that the churn rate has remained low, at 1.5 % monthly, despite the relatively high subscription price. At US$40 per month, it is one of the most expensive consumer news services in the market.

Nikkei's online edition has shown solid, steady growth since its launch.
Nikkei's online edition has shown solid, steady growth since its launch.

This is good, but with 700,000 paid subscribers, even a small improvement in retention would be significant for us. Media professionals well understand that user retention costs are much lower than the costs associated with new subscriber acquisition.  Generally, new subscriber acquisition costs are estimated to be seven times higher than retention.

Nikkei.com adds many features

Since Nikkei.com’s launch 10 years ago, we have steadily added a variety of features to enhance the user experience. We launched the iOS app in 2010, the ePaper newspaper page replica app in 2011, and visualization content in 2015 as part of our continuous process of adding new apps, features, and content.

However, we found that many users are not even aware of many of the new products and features we continue to add. For example, while our flagship Nikkei smartphone app is widely used, with an 86% adoption rate, the ePaper app has only been adopted by 44% of our subscribers. 

New subscriber consultation: 3 key questions

Last year, to address this problematic lack of awareness, we tested a new consultation process for new subscribers. We started to display a pop-up survey form to new subscribers at the conclusion of the sign-up process. This survey form contains three questions.

The first question addresses the motivation to subscribe. The second question looks at their past experience with the Nikkei newspaper. And the third question is whether the user prefers the list-style smartphone display or ePaper replica viewer app.

Survey questions help guide readers to the products best suited for their lifestyle.
Survey questions help guide readers to the products best suited for their lifestyle.

Based on their answers to these three survey questions, we showed each new subscriber one of six patterns of usage recommendation for products and features of Nikkei Online. For example, we provided guidance on reading the morning and evening editions, links to recommended apps in the AppStore, recommended columns and series based on personal interests, and personalisation settings and features in the apps and online edition.  

85% response rate

The results of the survey campaign were extraordinary, with a very high response rate — even though users have the option to skip the survey entirely.

One of our findings from this survey was that the way a survey question is asked is very important. We found that the phrase “Please answer the following three questions” is much more effective than “Thank you for registering.” It seems that users are more willing to answer a survey when they can see that only three questions are included.  

Ryoto Niwa, a data scientist of Nikkei.com said: “When registering on Nikkei.com for the first time, we ask new subscribers to input a lot of profile information. Since new subscribers may tire of entering much more data in response to our survey, we had to refine our questions to a minimum number that can provide us with enough data to make meaningful recommendations. There are now only three questions.”

We compared the difference of retention rates between the tested group and the non-tested group. We got four points of improvement in the tested group. If this retention rate improvement continues through the year, gross profit improvement would come to US$546,000. At the end of last year, we rolled out this consultation survey process to all new subscribers.

Retention rates were higher among the tested group compared to the non-tested group.
Retention rates were higher among the tested group compared to the non-tested group.

This consultation process with new subscribers turned out to be a highly effective user retention measure with a high ROI. We did not need to place any ads to generate survey responses and were able to do a small amount of testing to measure effectiveness while using existing tools as much as possible. The survey currently runs on the Web and in our apps.

We are considering additional ways of using the data collected in future surveys. For example, if you say you're interested in investing, we might be able to present you with a subscription offer to Nikkei Veritas, our specialty publication for financial investors. With such measures the survey will contribute to upsell as well as retention, with the potential for making significant contributions to our profitability.

About Yosuke Suzuki

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