When asked how important digital subscriptions are to the news media industry right now, INMA Researcher-in-Residence Greg Piechota quickly says 10. “Obviously,” he adds.
This isn’t just his opinion, as a digital subscriptions expert and head of INMA’s Readers First Initiative. Reuters Institute released a report last month showing subscription revenue is the No. 1 priority of news media executives.
“This is the single most important revenue source for publishers in terms of where they want to focus and grow,” Piechota said.
Next week, INMA will dig into this most 10 out of 10 topic with its Media Subscriptions Summit 4.0, which offers 13 hours of programming over five Tuesdays and Thursdays through February.
As he looks over the agenda, the year behind us and the year ahead, Piechota sees through big ideas coming from the summit:
1. Reinvent experience. Strong journalism got the industry here and improved user experiences around that journalism will keep reader revenue growing. “We’ll talk a lot about reinventing experience with news media,” Piechota said. “People are investing in product teams and developing product — partly because they recognise there’s a limit to how many journalists they can have and content they can publish. They need to think about features on their apps and new formats of content.”
Technology and COVID are pushing the industry in this direction, Piechota said.
“COVID redesigned the way people interact with media. We saw lots of innovation in the past year. At the summit, we are going hear from big companies like The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Bloomberg, but also start-ups like Substack and Tortoise.”
2. Shift focus. Growth is going to happen in 2021. “In past years, publishers were focused on converting their existing readership into subscriptions,” Piechota said. “Now they need to move to the outside world. They need to think about target groups, segments they want to target, young reader generation, women, people with certain interests. Publishers know this is a new world with the need to create new product offerings. Also maybe they need to change their marketing, their pricing.”
3. Smart pricing. “A lot of publishers built volume of subscribers in the COVID year because of the COVID bump,” Piechota said. “But now actually is the time to make it a real business. Some suffered from loss of ad revenue or shutdown of in-person events. Digital subscriptions really need to make money now, so publishers are much smarter about pricing. We have amazing stories to share, including one of a publisher who has risen their price 400 times — and had their best year ever last year.
4. Scale subscriptions and partnerships. News publishers have the opportunity to grow beyond individual customers. “For the past few years, publishers have focused on getting individual readers to subscribe. Now, they have to grow readership to those who might not be well aware of their brand. This is possible through group subscriptions, corporate subscriptions, partnerships with other subscription products, bundles, and all kinds of things. Basically, we’re going to talk about getting others to pay for those subscriptions.”
The summit kicks off on Thursday, February 11, with two of the biggest media subscription companies in the world: Netflix and Spotify. Why did Piechota decide to start with Gibson Biddle, former vide-president of product at Netflix, and Mayur Gupta, chief marketing and strategy officer at Gannet and former chief marketing officer at Spotify?
“They are great because of content but not only content,” Piechota said. “We know the user experience is driven by personalisation and that is one of the sources of their success. We want to learn from them how to think about product development and how to think about marketing. What can news media companies learn from those media subscription leaders in the world? They have the largest number of subscribers so we really want to learn from the best.”
The summit will also feature workshops with practical case studies and advice, including how to mobilise your newsroom to support reader revenue, democratising data in your newsroom, and helping readers form habits.
These are discussions you do not want to miss. Register here.