How publishers can increase digital subscriptions: The reader revenue revolution.

Finally, the scales of media business models are shifting in favour of reader revenues. Publishers are realising they can make money by charging for high-quality digital content. There are more than 1 million digital subscribers to well-known news organisations including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post. The FT and Economist in the UK are not far behind. And for the New York Times, over half of their entire circulation income now comes from digital subscriptions.

Evolok has been in the subscription industry for the last 15 years helping publishers to transition to the monetisation business model. We present our thoughts on what seems to be working for publishers growing their digital subscription revenue.  

Why Switch to Reader Revenue? 

Moving to reader revenue is a good option for publishers that previously relied on the uncertain ad market by operating an ad-funded model with free content. A whole new level of understanding of the kind of material that people appreciate may be gained by tracking what your subscribers read. Additionally, strengthening relationships with subscribers makes it possible to cross-sell certain events and other for-profit items. Additionally, subscriptions are a dependable and sustainable source of income, giving your company additional security (and adding value if you ever wish to sell).

What works in digital subscriptions?

The following are learnings from successful subscription publishers:

Bundling related content

Publishers usually combine print publications with digital access to additional material including early access to podcasts, online learning modules, and digital archives, as well as specialised e-newsletters, deals, and events.

Show free readers what subscribers enjoy.

Le Monde's digital subscribers have increased by 20%. Redesigning the home page so that the free readers could see the articles that were locked for subscribers only.  They have experimented with the ratio of free to paid content and currently feel that 63% of their material should be available without charge and 37% should be behind a paywall.

Test price and offers

It is advisable to thoroughly test your offers, such as $1 for 4 weeks, 12 weeks at a 50% discount, etc. because different audiences may respond differently to certain areas of your offerings. With their metered approaches, NYT and Economist have experimented with varying the number of free articles that may be read before the user faces the paywall. It appears that both are moving toward tighter paywalls.

Learning what content drives subscriptions

Smart publishers can also track which articles or pieces of content triggered a paid subscription. This can often be the longer, more in-depth pieces rather than the short newsy items.

Personalized, adaptable paywalls

The paywall at The Wall Street Journal scores subscribers based on their tendency to subscribe and modifies the number of stories they see for free before being presented with a subscription offer.

Putting Retention first

With 350k digital subscribers, The Economist is a digital subscription success story. With new subscribers receiving welcome emails from the editor and a unique, revamped app that encourages reading more articles, they are now devoting 70% of their marketing budget to retention.

The transition from free to paid

Introducing a paid digital membership when your material has previously been free is a large undertaking, but it is worthwhile. These are the key steps in the process.

  • Assess your audience and content
    This step is all about research which includes segmenting your audience, examining their recent behaviour, and engaging with them to learn what they value, which may be content you don't yet create.
  • Pricing and packaging
    Examine the competition in-depth and figure out ways to include beneficial extras in your subscription plan that address unfulfilled demands. To reduce the initial cost, think about quarterly or monthly possibilities, and consider how you would price business subscriptions in addition to individual options.
  • What type of paywall?

    This is a big decision with a lot riding on it and, thus could have serious implications. 

    Hard Paywall: A hard paywall often only shows the article title and the first few sentences before asking the reader to make a payment. They are more prevalent in financial and professional titles.

    Metered paywall: It enables a set number of free articles each month before lowering the prompt for a paid subscription. Choosing the appropriate charged content threshold is crucial for metered paywalls. Two key decisions must be made by publishers: how many articles to give away and what to charge readers afterwards. This is usually accomplished over several months through A/B testing.

    Dynamic paywall: Hard and metered paywalls use very straightforward techniques to choose when to display the paywall. Dynamic paywalls go further and only display subscription requests and pop-ups when it is determined that there is a high propensity that a visitor will become a paying subscriber.

    Dynamic paywalls evaluate visitor frequency, reading patterns, and interest data to correlate and forecast the likelihood that a user will become a paying member.

  • Choosing a technology platform
    Many outsourced solutions target the publishing industry if you don't have the internal team to build and maintain a paywall. Focus on vendors with an innovative road map and who are future proof. 
    To know more about building software in-house vs tech vendors click here.
  • Market-building
    Here, you must create your ideal marketing funnel by leveraging social media or events to attract readers who are interested, engaging them with free choices like a newsletter, then encouraging them to accept a trial and ultimately converting to paying subscribers.
  •  Hire experts

    A new set of skills are needed for subscription marketing, including business sales, marketing automation, data analysis, online conversion, and free trials. If your team lack these abilities, it may be worthwhile to hire individuals from relevant industries, such as e-commerce and SaaS, or to collaborate with outside firms to upskill your staff.

Get in touch with Evolok if you're thinking about switching from free to paid content; We would be pleased to share further knowledge from our experience working with other publishers going through this transition.


About Evolok

Evolok helps online publishers increase their revenues and drive audience engagement using Evolok’s end-to-end SaaS solution, which provides paywalls, subscription management, user segmentation and identity management.  Evolok delivers a selective ecosystem to drive user engagement and mobilization. Evolok helps its clients increase readership and revenue by engaging and personalizing content, protecting valuable content through paywalls, utilizing login and social data to incrementally know customers and finally targeting products and pricing to boost subscriptions.

If you need any help with your subscription journey or you are thinking of migrating your publishing business to the subscription business model contact us today. 

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