BILDplus shares lessons from its 0 to 680,000 subscriptions journey

By Greg Piechota


Oxford, United Kingdom


Football clips, mobile bundles, chartered flights, and a slot machine — Germany’s Bild tried it all. In the end, it learned that content is king.

Bild, Europe’s largest tabloid newspaper, still sells over a million copies in print daily. Its Web site and app attract up to 6 million users daily. Both editions combined reach every second German or 38 million people monthly.

Since launching an online paywall in 2013, Bild has grown the volume of digital subscriptions every year at an average rate of 11%. With over 680,000 paying BILDplus subscribers, it’s one of the most successful news subscription products in Europe.

INMA interviewed Daniel Mussinghoff, director of premium at Axel Springer (which owns Bild), at a private meet-up of the INMA Benchmarks community. Here are the key stages of BILDplus’ development and the lessons learned along the way:

Launch with unique added value: When BILDplus launched in 2013, Bild’s strategy was to offer unique added value beyond just the news content itself. 

At launch, the product labelled BILDplus included exclusive highlight five- to eight-minute video clips of German Bundesliga football matches. 

About 30% of Bild subscribers were interested in the soccer clips, and cancellations didn’t increase when Bild later dropped the clips. (Ultimately, Bild brought them back in 2021, monetising them also with video ads.)

This taught Bild the lesson that at launch, it’s crucial to have confidence in your core news content itself as the main driver of subscriptions. “The core news content has to be strong enough on its own to convert readers to subscribers,” Mussinghoff said.

Distribution partnerships drive early growth: In the first three years after launch, distribution partnerships were critical for customer acquisition. 

Deals with mobile carriers and bundles like including BILDplus with new mobile contracts generated a lot of “free” subscribers and awareness. The carriers paid Bild licensing fees, as it helped them differentiate from their competitors.

This highlighted the importance of diversifying acquisition channels beyond just your own website and app. “Bundles and partnerships gave us access to new audiences, and accelerated the growth at an early stage,” Mussinghoff explained.

Developing the “money can’t buy” experience: In the early years, Bild experimented with exclusive experiences for subscribers.

Bild chartered planes to fly subscribers to World Cup matches, offered tickets to otherwise sold-out Rolling Stones concerts. This built engagement and loyalty, but also shaped the brand’s promise: “People were saying: ‘Only you guys are crazy enough to do that.’”

Over time, Bild productised this with ongoing sweepstakes and contests, including a slot machine readers can play every day. These don’t rely on live events, but keep delivering unique added value and engage subscribers in the low news cycle. 

“A significant number of subscribers are playing those sweepstakes on a regular basis, and they have a higher lifetime value [than subscribers who don’t play],” Mussinghoff said.

Optimising prices for lifetime value: After the initial growth phase, Bild started experimenting more with pricing. 

This included testing multiple tiers, lower and higher entry prices, and personalising prices dynamically for different reader segments. The goal was balancing subscriber volume and revenue.

Over hundreds of tests, Bild gradually moved its pricing up — from €4.99/month to €7.99/month but settled on a single tier and a 12-month-long trial for €1.99/month for new customers. 

“The key learning was that simplicity works best for us — one straightforward price point converts better than complex options,” Mussinghoff explained.

Doubling down on performance marketing: During and after the COVID pandemic, temporary discounts and promotions helped drive trials and reengage lapsed users. Bild emerges from the pandemic refocused on subscriber volume growth.

In recent years, Bild invested heavily in performance marketing, with dedicated specialists for each channel: affiliate marketing, apps, search, social, etc. 

But BILDplus subscriptions still proved hard to scale through paid marketing. “Our brand is well known in Germany, and we usually see it’s more effective for us to promote the price rather than the brand,” Mussinghoff admitted.

How to cost-effectively scale subscriber acquisition remains a challenge. Mussinghoff believes product development, creative bundling, and partnerships may help expand reach in the future.

In October, Axel Springer launched a bundle of BILDplus and Amazon Prime — a free delivery of goods bought online, video and audio streaming, and more – all for €8.99/month.

Key future opportunities: After 10 years of BILDplus, the team sees the opportunities around reinventing the product experience, personalisation, and coordination with the editorial team to adapt content to the needs of subscribers.

“We proved subscriptions can work even for mass-market, tabloid-style news brands like Bild,” Mussinghoff said. The journey so far has underscored the importance of constant experimentation and relentless optimisation based on data and insights. 

Is there any ceiling ahead? “No, we have not hit a ceiling yet, the only challenge remains balancing the Web site’s reach and subscriptions, and we are confident there is still room for growing both.”

Greg’s Readers First newsletter is a public face of a revenue and media subscriptions initiative by INMA, outlined here. INMA members may subscribe here.

About Greg Piechota

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