This year’s robust news cycle is not just a challenge for journalists; it’s an opportunity for news marketers to grow digital subscriptions and innovate.
2024 is rich in events that historically fueled the public’s thirst for quality journalism:
National elections: 76 countries are holding elections, impacting over 4 billion people, including in the European Union, India, and the United States.
International conflicts: Tensions persist in the Middle East, Taiwan, and Ukraine.
Sports: Fans prepare for major events like the Olympics or European football championship.
Life and science: In other news, we live in the age defined by climate, obesity, space exploration, and Artificial Intelligence.
Similar past events, like the 2016 and 2020 U.S. elections and the COVID-19 pandemic, significantly boosted demand for online news and subscriptions. In general, educated, affluent, and politically active consumers are more likely to pay for online news, per Reuters Institute.
INMA growth projections
A rich news year ahead is likely to accelerate the growth beyond the forecast from INMA Benchmarks. Based on data from 180 news brands internationally, we predict:
Near-term growth: A median news brand is projected to see a 10% increase in both digital subscriber base and revenue in the first quarter of 2024 compared to 2023.
Year-end expectations: By the third quarter, these numbers are predicted to rise to 14% in subscriber volume and 13% in revenue vs. 1Q 2023.
Europe ahead: European brands might outperform their American and Asian counterparts, with a predicted 17% growth in subscription volumes.
National vs. regional: National brands are expected to grow faster than regional ones — 16% against 9%.
Big vs. small: Brands with the largest base (more than 100,000 digital subscriptions) are set to grow 7.5% and the smallest (below 7,500) — a whooping 26%.
Treat these forecasts as a baseline. They are based on extrapolating historic data on starts, churn, and ARPU, and don’t account for the news cycle nor publishers’ plans. In 3Q 2023, a median error for predicted volumes was two percentage points and three for revenue.
The growth trajectory
INMA members have seen a steady rise in volume and revenue since 2019, and online subscription penetration remains lower than print newspapers historically.
Tripling figures: The total number of digital-only subscriptions and related revenue for a median brand have tripled since 2019, INMA Benchmarks show.
Elevated sales: In autumn 2023, a median news brand was selling each month more subscriptions per million users on a site than during the pandemic peak (327 vs. 251).
Increasing competition: More top news brands across the world charged for access in 2022 vs. 2020, indicating a growing market attracting new players, per INMA research.
Far from the ceiling: When comparing the proportion of people who subscribed to online news in 2023 vs. who were buying print newspapers in 2002, I saw a 4.4 times growth opportunity across 35 countries.
Winning strategies for 2024
Here is a recipe based on five years of my Readers First Initiative’s research and insights from INMA members:
Visibility and reach: Fast-growing brands during the pandemic observed higher spikes in online traffic than the slow-growing brands, pointing to strong brand awareness and distribution.
Effective paywalls: These brands also had tighter paywalls, combining exposure to offers with high conversion rates through accessible pricing and easy check-out.
Managing churn: Rapid growth led to increased churn rates. Brands which experienced a post-bump slump are focusing now on subscriber onboarding and value nurturing to mitigate the risk.
The experimentation edge: The leaders like The New York Times highlight scaling experiments and agile, cross-disciplinary teams, which gave it a hockey stick-like growth curve.
What is beyond 2024?
After the pandemic and 2020 U.S. elections engagement with news sites declined globally, returning to the 2019 levels. The lesson is: Whoever misses the 2024 flight is likely back to crawling in 2025.
Meet Greg in person at the upcoming INMA Media Subscriptions Summit in New York in the last week of February.