TIME builds a subscription machine to move into the future

By Paula Felps


Nashville, Tennessee, United States


Although TIME is celebrating its 99th birthday next month, the company thinks of itself as “a 100-year-old start-up,” said Laurie Truitt, vice president of consumer growth. In recent years, the company has pushed itself to go beyond being a legacy print magazine, and it’s doing that by creating additional brands within the TIME “red border” and even venturing into cryptocurrency and NFTs.

As it pushes forward into new territory, Truitt said it requires building a “subscription machine” to move customers down the path.

TIME's subscription machine is designed to move customers down the path.
TIME's subscription machine is designed to move customers down the path.

“When we launched digital subscriptions, we had no registration on the site, and we had basically not a huge audience,” she said. “So, we really had to build out a model that was actually going to drive audience for us.”

To do that, the U.S. magazine launched a two/five model, which means that when a person gets to their third article, they have to register. Then, when they hit their fifth article, they’re asked to pay.

“This has really given us the opportunity to grow our user base and really start to nurture them and engage with them,” she said. “We really count on driving registrations, converting logins, getting print people to log-in, and driving new audiences through newsletter acquisition.”

Building a relationship with newsletters

Acquisition begins with engagement. So even though TIME’s goal is to drive revenue and grow subscription, it has to focus on driving engagement and nurturing its users to build a one-on-one relationship. To do this, it leverages newsletter sign-ups and tracks what readers are opening, Truitt said.

“We’re not looking to just fill the list and increase the newsletter list. We’re looking to bring in really engaged users and look at how they actually participate on our site. How do they participate with our content? What content are they reading? And did we sign them up for the right newsletter?”

Engaging an audience means nurturing both prospective subscribers and current ones.
Engaging an audience means nurturing both prospective subscribers and current ones.

One way to retain print subscribers is to get them to become digital subscribers “and not just read our content through the magazine,” she said. By following each user’s engagement, they can see when a user drops from a high level of engagement to a lower level, and that will trigger newsletters designed to bring them back to the site on a regular basis.

While newsletters create habit and can drive quality users back to the site, using them to convert users to paid subscribers requires patience: “They’re not going to convert in the first 30 days, or 60 days. We spend a lot of time measuring how long it takes them to become a registered user.”

As they gain more information, Truitt said they constantly iterate and optimise the experiences.

The power of content marketing

Other ways TIME is attracting new readers is through content marketing, such as using Facebook, as well as e-mails that are triggered when usage drops. And, if a user is about to exit, they might see a pop-up suggesting additional articles that they might like to read.

“Instead of your normal exit pop-up to get them to purchase something, we’ll push another article from a marketing standpoint, not an editorial standpoint.”

The keys to successfully converting subscribers is to understand your audience and then, as you build your audience, create more value for subscribers, Truitt said: “Immerse yourself in data, collaborate with editorial and data, focus on audience engagement and more loyal subscribers; invest in the machine. Really invest in your newsletters, marketing, your content marketing, and they, that will help you grow. And you have to be patient because it does take time. It’s not going to happen immediately.”

About Paula Felps

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