The notion of peak subscriptions is laughable

By Martin Schori


Stockholm, Sweden


The media industry as a whole has experienced incredible digital growth over the past few years as print customers have transitioned to digital subscriptions.

Many media companies that were slow to adopt digital subscriptions have seen their graphs shoot upward. However, over the past year, growth has slowed down, with few exceptions.

This trend can be seen in other industries that rely on similar subscription models, particularly in streaming.

Industry publications and experts are now talking about the concept of “subscription fatigue” and “peak subscriptions.”

Some people believe the news industry has hit its capacity for online subscriptions, but they continue to fail to deliver what users want.
Some people believe the news industry has hit its capacity for online subscriptions, but they continue to fail to deliver what users want.

I can understand why, of course, given the background. But my answer to that question is that nothing could be more wrong. Or, to put it another way, we actually may have peaked if we, as an industry, continue to do exactly what we are doing now.

Despite our belief that we are far ahead in what we call digital transformation, the truth is that we have barely started. In all honesty, many of us are still producing print newspapers on the Internet to varying degrees.

We talk a lot about putting the audience first, but do we actually do it? How many of us start our day by asking ourselves what the audience expects from us today? What does our target audience look like, and what do they need?

Most companies usually do everything they can to tailor their products to their customers’ needs. But in the media industry, it sometimes seems to be the opposite: We try to get customers to adapt to our existing products and business models.

All, and I mean all, user surveys tell us that people, especially young people, want an overview. They scan for information, and they want to find the latest news. We meet this need by writing print-style articles in which we bury what people are looking for in long paragraphs of text and quotes.

This is not putting the audience first.

Furthermore, there is a belief that “quality journalism” drives conversion. This often refers to long, in-depth articles. While this may be true, it looks like it works for many newspapers, and that audience will eventually be satisfied.

And right now, almost everyone is chasing after that audience. We need to broaden the definition of “quality” and find other formats and topics that also convert. We have only just begun in this regard, and we certainly haven’t “tried everything,” as was heard from the INMA stage at the Media Subscriptions Summit in March.

There are many more examples, but if we think about what we do and our position today — and then think ahead to what we can do — the question of whether we have peaked becomes almost laughable.

I believe we need an offensive, if not aggressive, and disruptive strategic shift from “print newspaper on the Internet” to digital news services where the user’s needs truly, and I mean truly, take centre stage. Of course, we can and should publish long articles by our best writers, but only if they are combined with a significant overhaul of straight news reporting.

We need smoother user experiences and really sharp and concise news summaries in audio, video, and text that provide a quick overview. Completely new formats with the help of AI. Better algorithms that reach the right people with the right content. I also believe we need to start with a, perhaps scary, level of personalisation.

News sites do not sell products or goods. We try to engage people so they come back to us every day (or several times a day). In doing so, we are competing with services that have incredible user experiences (think TikTok and Netflix) with a very aggressive level of personalisation. And great user experiences.

In addition, if we stop using “hard paywalls,” which exclude young people who have no relationship with our products, I think we will have an even greater chance of success.

On the INMA stage, a speaker stated that journalism must be experienced for people to understand its value. That is true. But on the other hand, doesn’t this apply to everything? What other products or services are sold sight unseen?

If we imagine a future with super relevant, innovative news products with a fantastic user experience, suddenly it feels pretty good. Then we will likely find the solution to another extremely strategically important challenge: winning over young audiences. These are audiences that opt out of news sites because they find them difficult to use, have poor user experiences, and do not feel relevant enough.

For those of us who want to rebuild, or even break down and build anew, the feeling is not that we have peaked. Rather, it’s that “the sky is the limit.”

About Martin Schori

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