INMA researcher-in-residence shares experience with 43 subscription news sites

By Grzegorz Piechota


Oxford, United Kingdom


As news sites across the world are enjoying surges in demand, an increasing number of publishers are asking readers to register and log in.

There are so many benefits to a publisher, which can:

  • Finally understand behaviours of readers across devices and browsers.
  • Fit products better to the needs of readers.
  • Gain new channels to engage readers and drive conversions, such as e-mails.
  • Collect data useful to identify segments attractive for advertisers.

What are though the benefits to a reader?

Last year, I registered to 43 of the world’s top 50 news sites by the number of online subscribers (the other seven sites did not offer a free registration). Here’s what I saw: 

The leading publishers offer a range of benefits to the registered users, of which e-mail newsletters are the most popular. They are followed by comments, bookmarks to articles, access to discounts, and personalised content recommendations.

A total of 14% of the publishers had registration walls that prompted users to register to continue reading for free, for example The New York Times and The Economist. 

The simplest registration flows asked just for one information — an e-mail address — or encouraged registering with a Google, Facebook, Amazon, or Apple account. The Washington Post had an outstandingly frictionless and elegant flow.

Many publishers though asked for more — passwords, name, gender — adding friction with every extra data point. Some publishers set the barrier of entry really high, asking personal questions such as the date of birth or details of the job position. Der Spiegel in Germany won the category of the most curious publishers, asking for 18 data points in total.

Privacy laws might have made half of the publishers ask for detailed consents, including marketing permissions and approvals of terms and conditions of use. Half of publishers required some sort of verification, of which clicking a link in a confirmation e-mail was the most popular.

In the three months that followed registration, the 43 publishers sent me 265 e-mails, of which more than half offered me a paid subscription.

The other e-mails tried to engage me first — some publishers such as Financial Times or Clarin in Argentina welcomed me dearly and educated about the brand, benefits of the product, and recommended content.

A median number of e-mails sent was six, the average was eight. One publisher in the United States spammed my e-mail box with 26 e-mails or two e-mails per week, of which 22 were subscription offers. It was The New Yorker. 

Thinking of registering and logging-in users? Join me and guest experts of Media 24 in South Africa, Ringier in Switzerland, and the Winnipeg Free Press in Canada at an online meet-up this Thursday, April 30. Register now. 

Banner photo courtesy of Monoar Rahman on

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