A number of leading publishers have been part of a recent trend in winning over audiences through digital subscriptions. Increasingly, digital subscriptions are playing a crucial role to offset lower advertising revenues, as consumer consumption habits for news services shift towards mobile devices. Inventory that was once well-monetised in the desktop age has faded, and many publishers are now cutting their display advertising efforts to capitalise on non-intrusive native ad formats for the expansion of a digital subscription business.
According to Deloitte, the proportion of subscriptions of publishers’ advertising revenue will be an even 50/50 split for digital in 2020. The New York Times is a great example of this trend gaining steam, as the company has seen a 25.5% year-on-year increase in digital-only subscriptions. These publishers also benefit from the fact that streaming services and app stores have brought internet users to pay for digital content.
Today's publishers have many opportunities to adapt to the new environment and evolve into digital brands. Journalistic competence remains the most important prerequisite, but marketing teams must adapt strategies, operations, and speed to the top consumer brands.
Digital subscriptions are a premium lifestyle experience
Given the abundance of digital offerings for information gathering and distribution, publishers must change their self-image and stand out in the eyes of audiences. The number of media competing for consumer attention has increased significantly, and news offerings no longer compete with other daily newspapers or magazines in kiosks, but with digital entertainment brands such as Spotify, Apple, Netflix, and Amazon. This doesn’t mean making compromises in journalism — quality is and will always be crucial. Rather, media companies have to face the competition with self-confidence. This includes developing comprehensive marketing campaigns, such as the New York Times' "Truth" campaign, which sells a premium lifestyle experience, and not just another article on a homepage.
Lifetime value instead of traffic
In recent years, performance marketers have created their own discipline in marketing, where sustainable KPIs, such as a consumer's lifetime value, are particularly important. After all, what would be the point of inexpensive registrations if people opted out of their subscriptions after a free trial period? Publishers need to do the same by taking chances on tactics that might deliver a better return. Publishers need to be increasingly data-driven and use all the tools available in digital marketing — this includes retargeting, negative targeting, lookalike audiences, and above all, app tracking.
Developing a retention strategy
In matters of retention, publishers should adopt strategies from digital-first brands. Through registrations, publishers receive data on the actual use of their products and can leverage this information to tailor products to each user or contact them individually. It may also be necessary to guide new subscribers through an offering with a sophisticated email strategy. France's Le Monde, for example, is currently developing ways of sending individual article recommendations to certain consumer groups who are less familiar with the newspaper's services. While the quality of articles is the most important retention lever, additional products such as podcasts or guides demonstrate the added value of a subscription over a longer period of time. In addition to advertising and marketing communication, product development plays a decisive role in customer retention.
Improving the consumer experience
Even for non-subscribers, there are options to personalise content, and for readers who can be identified, the options should be even more extensive. For example, publishers can give their subscribers the ability to tag their interests, as observed by successful sports apps allowing subscribers to select their favourite clubs. With personalised content appearing below the top stories curated by the editorial staff, publishers seamlessly transfer a personalised feed experience known from social networks to their own platforms, while maintaining editorial integrity.
More than just offering news
Not every local newspaper or niche magazine is a Times of India, and can generate paying customers with journalistic content alone. However, the brand of a publication has charisma and is trustworthy. Newspapers can take a new approach in their effort to reach online readers by offering additional services such as real estate, career or dating ads. There is also still a lot of potential in e-learning. Beyond digital subscriptions, reach and editorial competence may create new business opportunities for publishers. Here, too, the appeal of a publisher brand is crucial.
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