Wall Street Journal’s 3-year transformation from subscription to membership


For more than a century, The Wall Street Journal was in the business of selling newspapers. We had a circulation department with the focus on maintaining circulation to support a healthy and thriving print advertising business.

When CEO William Lewis took the helm in 2014, we set out to transform our business to put the customer at the heart and double down on digital. The industry was changing around us, and we saw the digital disruption as an opportunity to grow.

Part of The Wall Street Journal's membership strategy included a corporate subscription offering.
Part of The Wall Street Journal's membership strategy included a corporate subscription offering.

Below are some of the steps we took on the journey:

  • Stated the mission: 3 million. We started with a big goal — an ambition to grow the Dow Jones subscription base to 3 million. At the time we had not seen any significant digital growth for seven years. A customer group was created to be the steward of this goal.
  • Created a clear vision: membership matters. With a commercial goal in place, we also crafted a new vision for the WSJ. Our vision was for the publication to be the world’s foremost membership for the ambitious, offering an experience that is connected, personal, and exclusive. This gave us focus and guidance on what to start and equally what to stop. To bring this to life, we needed to be thinking about our customers as members and viewing the transaction as being “the starting line, not the finish line,” as stated in The Membership Economy by Robbie Kellman Baxter.
  • Customer first: know your customer. We created a customer insight team and developed the Customer Knowledge Program to learn more about our readers and continuously identify opportunities for growth. The programme helped us understand our members as people, not as numbers. From business-minded, longtime readers (called “print traditionalists”), to career-focused, early adopters (referred to as “social media mavens”), we were able to segment our customers and develop smart retention and acquisition strategies that would resonate with them the most. We deeply understood the psychology of a reader and the role of WSJ in their lives.
  • Structure for growth: the membership model. To apply these valuable insights and expand our global audience of members, we undertook an organisational transformation. We created the “membership pyramid” and a WSJ membership team, which was split into three areas: student membership, which is our fastest growing segment; core membership, which drives the bulk of the revenue, and professional membership, a tier unique to WSJ encompassing a C-suite layer and WSJ Pro, a proposition for industry practitioners. Each tier has its own general manager responsible for driving the growth of the membership. Outside of these three tiers, a partnerships team was also created to drive effective international growth.
  • New approach = new people. Our sales and marketing department underwent a significant change, shifting our focus toward increasing our membership base. This new approach also drove a change in our people. Our team is now comprised not only of creative customer-led marketers but of data-driven individuals with backgrounds in psychology, neuroscience, business analytics, information systems, and statistics, to name a few. This allowed us to be more data curious, data literate, and digital first. Most importantly, our team balanced the need for art and science, both of which would be critical as we set out to rebuild the iconic WSJ.com paywall.

In the coming months, we are excited to share more about our transformation, including how we have put the brand to work, strengthened our strategy with data, and turned subscriptions into a science.

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