Media adapts communication to prospective, current subscribers amid war-led traffic spike

By Greg Piechota


Oxford, United Kingdom


Hello! This is Readers First, a newsletter for INMA members on reader revenue innovation. I am INMA’s researcher-in-residence. E-mail me at:

Was this e-mail forwarded to you? Sign up.


WAR IN EUROPE: Higher interest in news worldwide seen in search, traffic to media sites

Since the Russian invasion on Ukraine, traffic to news sites increased 40% in Europe and 25% in North America, according to exclusive data of 4,540 media Web sites worldwide shared by Chartbeat, an online analytics company.

This is another signal of the spike in global demand for news reported by INMA last week. Chartbeat’s broad data set provided though more insight into what’s going on the media sites. 

  • Unsurprisingly, Russia’s attack on February 24 brought a sharp increase in both pageviews and aggregated engaged time globally, but the increases were mostly in Europe and North America, noticed Bonnie Ray, head of data science at Chartbeat.

  • She saw the largest increase in Europe, Middle East, and Africa, with 40% increase in pageviews and 50% increase in total engaged time. In North America, she observed a 25% spike in pageviews and 33% in engaged time.

  • Since February 24, both pageviews and engaged time have declined to pre-war levels in North America but continued to remain elevated in Europe, although not to the extent seen on the war’s first day.

Another way to measure demand for news is to track search volumes on Google. In the first week of March, interest in news as a genre reached 71% of the COVID pandemic peak in March 2020. 

My analysis of trends in individual countries showed that the closer to Eastern Europe, the higher the bump in search for news. 

  • For example, in the United States it reached the level comparable to 2020 U.S. presidential elections or 59% of the 2020 pandemic peak. 

  • At the same time, in Germany the war has become bigger news than the pandemic already (117% of the pandemic peak).

  • In Poland — where more than a million Ukrainian women and children seek refuge — the demand for news more than doubled (232% of the pandemic peak).

WAR-TIME COMMUNICATION: Top news subscription publishers pitch the value of journalism, refer to war in offers

Amid the war in Ukraine, 72% or 36 of the top 50 news subscription brands referred to journalistic qualities in their subscription benefits, an INMA study found.

This is a significant increase by 12 percentage points or six brands vs. the summer of 2021.

Together with my associates, in the first week of March I reviewed landing pages for subscription offers available under Subscribe buttons. We looked at the Web sites of the top 50 brands by the number of digital subscribers.

  • We found that content quality, defined as journalism adhering to the highest craft norms and standards, was the single most popular benefit of subscribing mentioned in the offers. We observed it 54% or 27 sites of the top 50.

  • Impact of journalism on society, politics, economy was referred as a benefit by 22% or 11 brands.

  • Others mentioned editorial independence (16%), truth and honesty as a goal, (12%) and the watchdog role of journalism (12%).

These references might take literally the form of a product benefit. The Washington Post’s All Access Digital package listed: unlimited access on the Web and in the apps, 24/7 news updates, and “the most comprehensive political and international coverage.”

Some other brands declared their guiding principles explicitly. Le Figaro in France wrote: “Freedom is our heritage and it is in her name that we think about the future. Never completely acquired, it can always escape us. It is our mission to defend it and nurture it every day with strength and passion.”

References to the war in offers: In the first week of March, 14% or seven brands directly referred to the war in Europe in their calls to subscribe observed on home pages. Here are some examples: 

  • Sweden’s Expressen offered a two-months-long free trial with a message that read: “Follow the developments in Ukraine.”

  • Spain’s La Vanguardia offered a three-months-long paid trial with a 60% discount. Its messages read: “Truth is the first victim of the war” and “Disinformation is the war weapon.” 

  • Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza offered a six-months-long paid trial with a 84% discount to access: “Verified news from Ukraine, reports from the field, and expert predictions.”

  • The New Yorker pitched a one-year-long introductory offer at a 52% discount: “Get the in-depth analysis you need to understand the war in Ukraine.”

We saw most references to the war also on the Web sites of European brands, such as Corriere della Sera in Italy or Dagens Nyheter in Sweden, but we saw them outside of Europe, too, for example, on the site of Estadao de S. Paulo in Brazil.

In this review, we didn’t count references to the war on article pages or in advertising campaigns, but we saw a few. 

In its editorialised under-the-article call to contribute, The Guardian wrote: “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has abruptly transformed the world. Two million people have already fled. A new Iron Curtain is grinding into place. An economic war deepens, as the military conflict escalates and civilian casualties rise.” 

And then it followed: “It’s our job at The Guardian to decipher a rapidly changing landscape, particularly when it involves a mounting refugee crisis and the risk of unthinkable escalation. Our correspondents are on the ground on both sides of the Ukraine-Russia border and throughout the globe, delivering round-the-clock reporting and analysis during this perilous moment.”

VALUE NURTURING: What the top editors write in their letters to subscribers amid the war

Many top editors decided to send extraordinary e-mails to paid subscribers, in which they explained their newsrooms’ reporting effort on the war in Europe. “Your support as a subscriber helps make this essential reporting possible,” wrote The Washington Post.

I am subscribed to more than 200 news sites, and browsing the thousands of e-mails received in the past two weeks, I saw broadly two approaches: letters to be read and letters to be clicked.

Some letters read like columns about the war and its implications, and they linked to the Web site in a subtle way. For example, David Walmsley of The Globe and Mail in Canada, started like this: “Dear Reader, There is something about journalism that makes those observers of the human spirit head toward danger and not away from it.” He continued with an inside story of his foreign desk and introduced subscribers to its correspondents. 

Roula Khalaf of the Financial Times explained the financial and economic implications of the war in Europe and referred to the breadth of its reporting, mentioned its live blog, data visualisations, and invited to join a subscribers-only Webinar with the FT’s global affairs commentator, a world news editor, and a Moscow bureau chief.

Other letters focused just on telling a story. For example, Zanny Minton Beddoes of The Economist described a step-by-step thinking and design process behind its iconic cover. It showcased only a bleeding Ukrainian flag and a logo of the newspaper. “Each time we took something away from the design, it became stronger. All that was left was the suffering,” she wrote.

I also saw e-mails optimised for clicks rather than reads. They started often with short notes in the beginning and then a list of links followed. In one such letter, The Washington Post promised its subscribers 24-hour coverage, presented its foreign desk team and their contact details, and recommended five must-read stories, such as, “A visual timeline of how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is unfolding on the ground.” 

Some letters were very personal. Matus Kostolny, editor of Dennik N in Slovakia, wrote: “Putin started the war in Ukraine on Thursday morning. I couldn’t concentrate on anything for the first hour. My colleagues Mirek Toda and Vlado Simicek sat on the train from Kiev to Kramatorsko on the Donbas. They didn’t report. I didn’t know if they were OK.”

Bartosz Wielinski, deputy editor of Gazeta Wyborcza in Poland, described his daily life in the recent weeks: “I go to bed at 1 a.m. I jump out of bed at 6 a.m. I reach to a tablet, which I keep below the pillow, and I check the news from Ukraine. Kyiv is holding up. Kharkiv bombed again.”

Deadline for applications to our European Subscription Academy is Monday, March 14

This is an intensive, eight-months-long consulting and training growth programme for European news publishers provided for free by FT Strategies, Google News Initiative, and INMA. 

We are doing this programme for the third time. Our alumni include Denik in Czechia, DC Thomson in the U.K., The Irish Independent, Mittmedia in Sweden, El Pais in Spain, and Rheinische Post in Germany.

Participants benchmark and review a strategy with world-class experts of the Financial Times, set up a detailed roadmap for growth, a governance structure, and learn from experiments and my occasional lectures.

Our distinguished alumni accelerated their subscription growth. Now it’s your turn. Click here to see the details and to apply. 

About this newsletter

Today’s newsletter is written by Greg Piechota, researcher-In-residence at INMA. Greg leads the Readers First Initiative at INMA aimed at sharing the best practices in growing online engagement and reader revenue. 

E-mail him at with thoughts, suggestions, and questions. Sign up to the Readers First Slack channel for daily links.

By continuing to browse or by clicking “ACCEPT,” you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance your site experience. To learn more about how we use cookies, please see our privacy policy.