Bump in digital subscriptions continues in Europe, U.S.

By Grzegorz Piechota


Oxford, United Kingdom


Last week, European news sites were adding new subscribers at a rate 67% up compared to the pre-pandemic period, and U.S. sites were selling at a rate 55% up, reported Piano.

For more than two months, Piano has shared with INMA the benchmarks based on the data of 285 paywalled news sites that sell subscriptions using their technology.

Piano’s weekly chart has become a news industry’s must-see. INMA members, such as Anna Marie Menezes of The Toronto Star and Mark Campbell of Tribune Publishing say they have been using it to benchmark their own performance.

Patrick Appel, director of research at Piano, promised to analyse the churn rates of the newly acquired subscribers, and we hope to release the first analyses in the coming weeks.

By April, news publishers gained on average 13.6% subscribers versus February 2020. This is the first Piano benchmark on the impact of the bump on the subscriber base of news publishers in Europe and in the United States.

Piano summed up the gains from March and April and offered monthly benchmarks exclusively for the INMA Virtual World Congress, which continues through the rest of May.

  • In Europe, news sites saw monthly new subscription starts increase 146% in March and 115% in April compared to February.
  • In the United States, publishers saw monthly starts go up 60% in March and 92% in April.

Interestingly, conversions of the direct visitors were up at a higher rate than those of visitors referred by search and social. This is based on a slightly larger data set of 355 paywalled news sites that use Piano to sell subscriptions:

  • Direct conversions were up 95% in March and up 96% in April vs. February.
  • Search conversions were up 71% in March and up 74% in April.
  • Social conversions were up 45% in March and in April.

This matters because, even before the pandemic per the Piano’s 2019 data, direct visitors converted at a double rate of search visitors (38% of all conversions are direct and 22% come from Google) and eight-fold the rate of social visitors (4.5% conversions come from Facebook).

Perhaps the data on subscription referrers confirm observations by individual publishers that:

  • New subscriptions starts during the COVID lockdown have not come primarily from new visitors (who are more likely to visit via search or social).
  • But from the returning visitors who mobilised to come frequently during a high-interest event (and these people are more likely to visit directly). 


Another surprising observation: Visitors were buying monthly plans more often in March than in February, but then in April the share of annual plans among all subscriptions has increased. This is perhaps linked to the success of different types of promotional offers that many publishers launched to sign up more subscribers during the pandemic.

Banner image courtesy of LEEROY Agency from Pixabay.

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