2017 Winner

Data-driven subscription audience growth

Herald Sun

Southbank, Australia

Category Paid Content or Subscription Initiative

Overview of this campaign

The Herald Sun - a daily metropolitan tabloid newspaper based in Melbourne, Australia - is a digital innovator. Over the span of a decade we have worked furiously to build a loyal digital audience on multiple platforms spanning mobile, desktop, apps and social channels.

Leading edge results have included:

  • Growing our overall paid audience through digital and print innovations;

  • Becoming one of the first metropolitan sites in the world to implement a digital subscription strategy in 2012;

  • Launching the biggest digital fantasy sports competition in Australia 

  • Winning a host of major national editorial awards for digital news coverage.

We have maintained a significant readership despite an aggressive paywall strategy, with our overall digital audience the second biggest in Australia for a site operating such a model, and still among the 10 biggest news audiences in the country among mostly free news services.

Our newspaper also remains the single best selling daily in Australia.

How have we done this?

By knowing our audience and tailoring content to them.

In 2015, after two years as a metered paid content site, the Herald Sun instituted a freemium model with a 50/50 split between free content and stories requiring a subscription to read.

An issue we soon encountered was churn. Around half the subscribers that signed up decided they weren't seeing value in the product.

In addition to our marketting efforts, we tasked editorial with engaging subscribers.


Results for this campaign

We have instituted a number of editorially-driven data initiatives:

Subscriber map

Our first task was to find out where our paying readers lived. Using anonymised subscriber data we built a map of the areas our subscribers resided, worked and shopped. This lead to a radical shift in our thinking about who our audience was. Immediate trends showed many were from growth suburbs and commuter towns. This lead us to re-evaluate who our core subscriber base was.

Building on our audience map, we looked further into demographics, adapting commercial insights into actionable editorial information. 

Headline analysis

Before we started this project, we had analytics that showed the stories that most successfully converted readers to subscribers. To add another layer of depth to this, we analysed several thousand words that made up the headlines of the stories our readers subscribed on in the past year. After some filtering, it left us with a list that could be used to inform headline and link writing.

Finding a different audience

Our subscriber gave us an incredible amount of insight into our audience. At a basic level it gave us a list of the top 10 suburbs our readers lived in. From this we created a series of features on those suburbs. The main goal of these features was subscriber retention - lowering churn by giving subscribers content local to them. 

Looking at the demographics of the top suburbs, we saw a trend that most of these areas include significant new real estate developments.   Ages in these suburbs were early 40s, married, educated,  and aspirational, but still deeply suburban. This further allowed us to tailor features and breaking news coverage to this increasingly well-defined audience.


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