2020 Winner


Verlagsgesellschaft MADSACK GmbH & Co. KG

Hannover, Germany

Category Digital Subscriptions

Media associated with this campaign

Overview of this campaign

The “MADSACK+”-project comprises two broader goals: in the short-term, MADSACK aimed to successfully introduce a new kind of pay model for its several regional newspapers. Following the examples of market pioneers, especially from Scandinavia, MADSACK aimed to generate >30,000 digital subscriptions by the end of 2020 and 40% of its then printed circulation by the end of 2023. In the long run, MADSACK aims to become the most successful provider of digital subscriptions for high-quality regional news in Germany within the next 5 years. We want to become “the fourth standard flat” for news for the user in our distribution areas, alongside music (e.g. Spotify), entertainment (e.g. Netflix) and shopping (e.g. Amazon Prime).

Along with these quantitative targets, qualitative targets were set that led to a complete reorganisation of the newsroom: Editors should be even more responsible for the generation of subscriptions and content should not only be created according to the news situation, but also according to the demand of potential subscribers. A new data analytics team was established.

On a process level, the project team strived for a very easy access to the content behind the new paywall, for lean processes, e.g. a minimum number of clicks and a minimum amount of requested user data, and for a convenient way to quit a subscription if the service is no longer needed – the user was meant to be convinced, not to be confined.

Increasing MADSACK’s online reach and the resulting ad revenue remained overall important at the same time.

Results for this campaign

MADSACK started its new “time wall” literally from scratch, a comparison to the status before the new pay model was setup is of limited value. However, the numbers are convincing:

By the end of 2019 or six months after launch of the time wall, ~12,500 subscriptions are generated, i.e. almost half of the target set for the end of 2020. The number of subscribers is still increasing linearly. Conversion is impressive: More than 50% of trial subscribers decide to keep their subscription when the subscription enters the paid phase after the first free 30 days. 65% of subscriptions are still valid after two months.

Workflows in the editorial departments were completely rebuild. The data team established a deep understanding about what drives subscriptions (topics, time of day,…) and how different types of content needed to be supplied in order to reach the maximum of subscriptions. “Subscription turbos”, i.e. special content created only to drive subscriptions, proved to be >300% more likely to generate at least one subscription. On the other side, only 15% of articles generate subscriptions. In general, typical local journalism topics like local politics, reviews of cultural events and crime worked best for generating subscriptions.
However, the effect of the first free hour could not yet be fully clarified. Traffic analyses indicate a shift of usage towards the first free hour even for content that is not put behind the time wall. In how far the first free hour does generate more subscriptions than a paywall without that feature could not yet be proven.
The project team is more than satisfied with the growing number of subscriptions by the end of 2019 – however, only the next months and years will show how the pay model has to be developed further in order to keep the growth permanent.


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