Amedia’s seven steps to digital subscription success

“In 2014, we were at a critical point,” Victoria Schultz, an Executive Vice President with Amedia in Norway, told participants during WAN-IFRA’s recent Digital Media Asia 2020. “We had experienced 15 years of falling subscriptions and felt increasing competition from international, social media and search players, and losing a considerable amount of advertising money.”  

by WAN-IFRA External Contributor | November 5, 2020

By Lee Kah Whye

Schultz, who has a wealth of digital experience, having kickstarted digital subscription transformation for eight newspapers while securing profitable margins as regional director for Norway’s Amedia Group and CEO of one of its largest newspapers then described how the company had turned its fortunes around.

Using seven focused steps, Amedia transformed a failing legacy print newspaper business model into a successful digital one.

In six years, Amedia’s subscribers on all platforms went from 430,000 to 675,000. 

The company started by creating a digital-first publishing policy. This is about changing the mindset of the editorial department. Digital publishing means being able to work in a continuous deadline environment. It then implemented the following seven steps.

Step 1 – Get readers to login.

“You need a login solution where you can control the value chain. We do not recommend to collaborate too much with Facebook or Google or its likes. It’s vital to keep control of the relationship with your readers,” Schultz said.

“Control is about customer contact, customer journey, legal terms and economic terms. Most important of all, data capture,” she added.

She suggested that a modern media company needs to take control of readers’ data. Third parties will reduce the control you have. This is needed for effective business development, journalism, subscription growth and advertising. Choosing the right login model is also important. After extensive testing, Amedia adopted a “plus strategy” with 50 to 60 percent of articles behind a paywall.

Step 2 – Focus on your existing subscribers.

Explain to them why and how to log on. Communicating this clearly is very important. Amedia launched a marketing campaign involving editors and local celebrities to encourage subscribers to login. Some elderly customers were invited to Amedia’s newsroom and treated to tea and cakes to learn how to do this.

Another aspect of this campaign is to encourage subscribers to share the login with family members as they do with a printed newspaper. This had the effect of recruiting future subscribers and young readers.

Step 3 – Democratise data and insights and empower your journalists.

Schultz advocated giving journalists access to data so they could see how their articles performed.

“All our 800 journalists can see how many subscribers are reading their articles, how much time is spent on the articles, how many new subscribers it has sold. It has created a healthy competition amongst all our employees and journalists,” she said.

Step 4 – Develop your products using facts and insights.

Amedia spends a lot of time on analysis and insights and is continuously looking at which stories and articles users read the most, especially the ones behind the paywall that subscribers are clearly willing to pay for.

“Since 2016, working closely with our newsrooms on organisational issues, including leadership and culture, on how to make the articles more relevant to readers, and on explaining Amedia’s strategy and making the editors own the strategy. We work to empower the editor-in-chief as the editor is the key to engaging the entire newsroom.”

Step 5 – Sell your paid subscription product to new readers. 

“We use search engine optimisation; we use Facebook; and we use the front page to sell our products,” Schultz said. 

Amedia has also successfully invested in live streaming of local sports that are not covered by the TV stations. This has led to new subscribers. 

Step 6 – Reduce churn, and focus on churn reduction within the whole organisation  

“The more they read; the less the readers churn,” Schultz said.  

Amedia’s research revealed that for readers who read once every three days or less frequently, the churn is between 7 to 12 percent. For those who read every two days, churn is 5 to 6 percent. The churn for those that read every day is only 3 to 4 percent.  

“We continuously focus on getting readers back in, creating daily habits, which is a good investment. We have also embarked on really trying to understand the customer journey. We have divided our analysis into two main areas. Increasing sales and reducing churn.”  

Analysing usage data from 600,000 articles every year, Amedia can predict purchases and predict with 82 percent certainty whether a story will sell even before it is published, she said. 

“Targeting of those stories to non-subscribers on newspaper front pages is very important in the recruitment channel for our newspapers,” Schultz said.

Their algorithms enable the creation of personalised homepages and story recommendations based on the readers’ reading history and those with similar preferences. This system is still being refined, but so far it has resulted in a 13 percent increase in reading time among the test publications. 

Step 7 – Do the same with advertising data. 

Schultz summarised what Amedia has achieved: “We had 1 percent digital subscribers. Today we have over 50 percent of our subscribers that are digital-only readers. In addition, we have 1.6 million, or 40 percent, of all the Norwegian population over the age of 18. They have registered with us. This gives us an enormous potential for further growth.”

About the author: Lee Kah Whye is Director at Project Mercury, a media business consultancy. Before this, he spent nearly 20 years at Reuters and was head of the news agency business for Asia.   

Edited by Bill Poorman

WAN-IFRA External Contributor

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