Digital subscribers are more interested in user experience than added content

By Grzegorz Piechota

INMA

Oxford, United Kingdom

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What makes some news consumers willing to pay more for their digital subscription? The INMA analysis of offers in 33 countries suggests: it’s less about extra content and more about user experience and non-editorial benefits.

Academic research finds charging a single price is rarely the most profitable strategy. Utility-driven consumers might be willing to pay more for more benefits, and price-sensitive consumers could happily pay less for less.

To maximise profits, news publishers often create versions of their digital subscription product, for example, following a popular good-better-best logic. The “good product” is a stripped-down version of the higher-valued “better product” and hence it can cost less. The “best product,” as the name suggests, has the most features and is priced the highest.

My study of 224 value propositions of national news outlets in 33 countries shows that 70% or 157 featured more than one digital product or a price point. 

While basic digital news subscription offers most frequently include product features — such as apps, and subscriber-exclusive editorial content — the top benefits of premium-priced offers are different in nature.

My analysis of 157 news outlets with at least two digital products showed that features such as e-replicas, non-editorial offers such as discounts, and multi-user access were the most frequent benefits for which publishers charged extra.

The occurrence of benefits in the studied offers does not indicate popularity of them among readers. It shows though that many publishers believe these benefits are more valuable for some readers and justify the higher price.

Let’s then look at the premium benefits more closely. 

Interestingly, e-replica, or a digital version of a print edition, and access to online archives were the most frequent premium product features.

  • For example, access to e-replica is excluded from the cheapest Digital Light product of Tages-Anzeiger in Switzerland, and is offered only to subscribers of a full digital product or buyers of bundles with print. The same feature differentiates standard and premium tiers of the subscription to the Irish Times.
  • Other frequent features include extra mobile/tablet apps (for example, Le Figaro in France includes a crossword app) and premium subscriber-exclusive newsletters (for example, El Mundo in Spain offers them). 

Non-editorial benefits help expand the value proposition of news subscriptions beyond news and content from the publisher.

  • Publishers offer tablets bundled with an e-replica. For example, Der Standard of Austria has such an offer, demanding a two-year contract.
  • One of the premium-priced bundles of The Australian includes subscriptions to Vogue magazine and full digital access to The Wall Street Journal, locking in readers not with one product but three.
  • Some publishers run exclusive loyalty clubs available for an extra charge like Clarin in Argentina. Its club 365 offers discounts at 6,500 shops and services.

Another type of premium benefit helps readers with families to open separate accounts for each family member rather than share passwords and get misdirected recommendations.

For example, Le Figaro in France includes family access packs of three or five accounts, depending on a price paid. Other access-based benefits allow subscribers to gift access to anybody. For example, the premium bundle of The Washington Post includes both a bonus subscription to share and 30-day digital passes one can give away every month.

The New York Times and Dennik N in Slovakia allow subscribers to pay extra to gift subscriptions to students. The former news site also features an option to unlock individual premium articles to anybody and share the link by e-mail or on social media. 

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