5 key facets to Wall Street Journal’s digital subscriber growth

By Suzi Watford

The Wall Street Journal

New York


Today, The Wall Street Journal has more members than ever before. But just three years ago, it was a different story. We hadn’t seen digital subscriber growth in years and were at risk of not preparing our business well enough for the transition to digital.

In boosting its digital subscribers, The Wall Street Journal team learned how much membership matters and that the first seven days are particularly critical.
In boosting its digital subscribers, The Wall Street Journal team learned how much membership matters and that the first seven days are particularly critical.

With a new CEO, William Lewis, at the helm in 2014, we set out to transform our business and focus on the customer to grow. We set our sights on an audacious goal of three million Dow Jones subscribers in three years, or “3 in 3” for short. Our goal was ambitious, but we saw this as an opportunity to establish a new foundation supporting growth not only for the next few years, but for the future of the business.

Three years on we are closing in on three million Dow Jones subscribers. WSJ digital subscriptions have almost doubled in this period, and digital subscribers now account for 60% of our base. We have more student members than ever before.

Our membership strategy means we are developing relationships with our readers that feel personal, connected, and exclusive. Our journey from purely subscriptions to becoming the foremost membership for the ambitious is well underway and is firmly underpinned by our position as America’s most trusted newspaper across the political spectrum.

As we continue this momentum, we’ve identified five key areas that have been critical to our success thus far.

  1. Membership matters. To better concentrate on our members, we’ve undergone a cultural and organisational change, from refreshing our team structure, department targets, and reporting methods to recruiting talent with new skills and experience.
  2. Put the brand to work. Understanding our members means knowing how to speak their language. We’ve found that what unites our audience is their relentless ambition to succeed, which is what inspired our global brand positioning: Read ambitiously.
  3. Data powers the subscription machine. There is strength in numbers, and the power of our data is a testament to that. Advanced analytics and machine learning have created the propensity model that powers our dynamic paywall.
  4. Subscriptions as a science. Our team is a combination of marketers who are data curious, digital first, and can balance the need for art and science. Behavioural economics and “nudge theory” underpin our subscription machine.
  5. Stop the stops. The first seven days are critical to the membership experience, and ensuring members continue to feel valued a few days, a few weeks, or even a few years into their experience is key to reducing churn.

We’ve learned a tremendous amount in the past three years, and as the Journal looks forward to reaching significant milestones in the coming months, we are excited to bring you along on this journey with us as my team and I share more about our biggest takeaways and lessons with the INMA community. We look forward to learning from the community, too.

Additionally, we invite you to join the conversation in person at this year’s INMA Media Subscriptions Summit in London, where I’ll be speaking further with Karl Wells, general manager of WSJ membership, about how we are building The Wall Street Journal as a membership for the ambitious.

About Suzi Watford

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