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6 Things the News Industry Can Learn from the Subscription Economy

Afton Brazzoni | Industry Analysis | 18th August 2020
6 Things the News Industry Can Learn from the Subscription Economy

Growing numbers of publishers have turned to subscription models to make up for lost advertising revenue since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Subscription models don’t only benefit publishers, though. They also offer a significant advantage to audiences by allowing consumers to select the content they pay for and, in turn, consumers get to read, listen to, or watch curated content from their chosen genres.

In this post, we’ll dig into the current state of the subscription economy, then explore 6 things the news industry can learn from this booming market.

The State of the Subscription Economy

Chalk it up to quality content or our fascination with screens (and in reality, maybe a bit of both), but media organizations are seeing record numbers of subscribers nowadays. In 2019, The New York Times reached 3.5 million paid digital subscribers, and News Corp Australia’s publications reached 500,000, to name a few examples.

Media isn’t the only industry capitalizing on the value of subscription models lately. Entertainment and gaming companies are also seeing roaring success—among them household names like Netflix, Nintendo, and WWE.

“Most of the top 10 value creators in media derive a significant share of revenue from subscriptions and other recurring sources,” according to this article by Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

It’s clear that the subscription economy is going strong. It has even expanded into subscriptions for meal boxes, pet-related subscriptions, and countless other options such as clothing and beauty products. Here are 7 things that you as a publisher can learn from this attractive business model to generate revenue for your media organization.

1. You can always reinvent yourself

Audience engagement will inevitably dip from time to time in your business. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is weather the storm. But in other cases, a lack of interest from your most loyal fans may mean it’s time for your news organization to shake things up

Take The New York Times. Who would have thought that a newspaper that started publishing over 150 years ago would manage to get 5.2 million new subscribers in just one year—2019. The Times also grew its digital subscriber base by 1 million that year, which is an impressive stat on its own.

“[This example] offers strong evidence that print media transformation is possible in the digital age,” said BCG.

No matter where your media organization is in its lifecycle, it’s crucial to keep your eye on industry trends and take chances to reach a broader audience. If a strategy you’ve been trying for a while isn’t working, explore a new one. Subscription models are an ideal choice.

2. There's room for more than one player at the top

You may be thinking, if subscription models are so popular, isn’t that a crowded market to try to break into?

It’s true that there are big players in the subscription economy. For example, when you think of streaming television and movies, you probably think of Netflix. But, at least since last year, you now may also think of Disney+.

When Disney+ launched at the end of 2019, there was a lot of chatter about whether the streaming service would be able to capture market share from Netflix. By February 2020, Disney+ reached 29 million subscribers (still a ways off from Netflix’s 170 million subscribers, but impressive nonetheless). Disney’s service also costs less than Netflix, which gives it a competitive advantage.

The lesson here? Whether you have a local or a global audience, you can create a unique subscription offering that your market will respond to, as long as it’s crafted with their needs in mind.

3. Flexible options can help you increase subscriptions

Subscription models are audience-centric in nature, so it makes sense for publishers to be flexible with the way they structure their offerings. When you know your audience well, you’ll be able to deliver on the things that they care about most, such as flexible payment plans, free delivery, or complimentary access to your digital content for customers who also purchase a print subscription.

“Running paid media campaigns is proving to be incredibly effective when it comes to subscription acquisition, but requires careful management and appropriate messaging to be truly successful,” according to What’s New In Publishing.

Take the time to understand what your audience would find valuable in a subscription model, and you’ll increase your chances of winning their business.

4. Partnerships can give your subscriptions a boost

Advertisers have been aligning themselves with media organizations for decades, so why not tap into the audience of a like minded brand to help increase your subscription numbers? By entering into a partnership with a company your audience knows, likes, and trusts, you’ll increase the value your subscription can offer them.

For example, U.K. publisher The Times partners with various other businesses to provide subscribers with travel, arts, culture, and entertainment rewards through its Times+ program. This is an excellent way to extend your media company’s reach and grow your brand awareness—all while delighting your customers.

5. Fine tuning your customer journey can help you increase subscriptions

Before you launch a subscription program, you need to make sure it’ll be quick and simple for your audience to sign up. You don’t want to make them work to engage with your content. 

You should also evaluate whether your program offers a better experience than your competitors’. How seamless is the digital journey when someone begins from an email campaign versus social media? Every step should flow smoothly to your end goal: the subscription registration page.

Once you get your audience to your landing page, how do your payment options stack up to your competitors’? How much information do you require your customers to give you? Have your team test out the process to make sure it’s easy to follow.

6. Know your audience, but don’t make assumptions

High quality content is paramount to any subscription offering. This is true for basically all audiences. Don’t leave revenue on the table by assuming that a particular demographic doesn’t see the value in paying for an excellent content series.

“Contrary to conventional wisdom, younger generations of consumers are willing to pay for content and even print subscriptions—but they do not seek them out,” according to BCG. “In contrast, older consumers are more likely to seek subscription offers based on convenience.”

Spread the word about your subscription model and tailor your offerings to suit each demographic you target. Customization is key in this evolving media landscape.

High Quality Content in Exchange for Valuable Data

News organizations must commit to researching, testing, and segmenting their subscription offerings on a regular basis to reach the largest audience possible. While this is no small undertaking, you’ll reap the rewards when your media company begins to gather high-value first-party audience data.

This data is a crucial selling point for advertisers who want to increase their return on investment in an environment that’s brand safe and contextually relevant.