The Media Subscriptions Blueprint

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The latest global trends and strategies behind optimising digital subscriptions point to a new value proposition for news brands, the data-fueled freemium model, and the eventual shift to a dynamic pay model. Adopting digital subscriptions is proving a culture galvaniser that works best with content written with an authentic voice. Newsrooms are crucial to growth, as is a focus on improving retention through engagement. This report is based on findings from the INMA Media Subscriptions Week April 16-19, 2018, in London.

Key themes in the report

  • Over-arching trends, key lessons, and strategy among digital subscription best practitioners.
  • Analysis of current and emerging pay models, how these are being deployed, and satisfaction metrics.
  • Best practices in acquisition and retention: registration, payment, pricing, social/search, conversions, onboarding, and managing churn.
  • Content triggers and publisher lessons behind content genres.
  • Emerging models such as membership, pay for a purpose, corporate and student subscriptions, and convenience as a value driver.

Who should read the report?

Executives involved with digital subscriptions, determining corporate value propositions, and the value of content


Robert Whitehead, Earl J. Wilkinson, The Newsplexer Projects

Detailed overview

A reader-focused business model with digital subscriptions at the core represents the news industry's best hope to replace a declining print business model and maintain scalable journalism. This was the key conclusion from "The Media Subscriptions Blueprint," a report based on presentations and feedback at the INMA Media Subscriptions Week April 16-19, 2018, in London.

Across 25 case studies, seven keynote presentations, a 40-question benchmark survey, a town hall, and hundreds of questions and comments from the 230 participants from 33 countries, the INMA summit found the cutting edge on seven broad themes:

  • Value proposition: While content is often the trigger for a subscriber relationship, publishers must realise that community, cause, and convenience are arguably equally important in the emerging subscription game.
  • Freemium: The rise of data in media companies provides publishers more options on when and how to lock content. The freemium model is displacing the metered model, which is best for high quality and high quantity content ecosystems.
  • Moving to dynamic: A personalised dynamic model and hybrid freemium/meter models will soon displace simpler models.
  • Cultural galvaniser: Digital subscriptions are not a task for a department. They work best when there is a clear growth mission and a total-company approach.
  • Where newsrooms fit: Newsroom participation amid the art and science of content economics helps maximise digital subscription success.
  • Improving retention through engagement: Companies far down the road of digital subscriptions are finding that while there is upside in sales efforts, the next growth wave will be retaining subscribers at a higher rate through tactics that are just now emerging.
  • Authentic voice content: While surveys and best practices point to varying genres that trigger subscriptions, the one commonality no matter a global brand or a community brand is content with an authentic voice.

The Media Subscriptions Blueprint has three main parts:

  • Strategies: Authors Robert Whitehead and Earl J. Wilkinson distilled key lessons from the London event into narratives and checklists - including a survey of summit participants and an interactive town hall discussion among participants.
  • Best practices: The Newsplexer Projects covered the study tour and summit from beginning to end and provided robust coverage focused on presentations and visits.
  • Perspectives: After Media Subscriptions Week, Siri Holstad Johannessen of Schibsted and Matt Lindsay of Mather Economics provided perspectives on what they witnessed in London.

Among digital subscription best-practice companies included in the report are The New York Times, Times of London, The Economist, Wall Street Journal, Schibsted, NZZ, Fairfax Media, Politiken, BILDPlus, Dennik N, Dagens Nyheter, Helsingin Sanomat, Boston Globe, Amedia, Telegraph Media Group, Immediate Media, Sky Media, The Guardian, and the Financial Times. Presentations by Facebook, Google, Membership Economy author Robbie Kellman Baxter, University of Oxford senior research fellow Grzegorz Piechota, Piano CEO Trevor Kaufmann, and others also are included.

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