Most publishers still heavily dependent on the uncertain nature that comes with digital advertising dream of being in Aftenposten’s situation. However, ensuring they retain as many paying subscribers as possible is no small feat and brings its own set of challenges.
Known as Norway’s quality national daily, Schibsted-owned Aftenposten has around 150,000 paying digital-only subscribers, a sizeable figure in a country that has just over 5.4 million people.
At around the equivalent of 27 euros a month (or about 325 euros a year), Aftenposten is fairly pricey.
“So it’s really, really important for us to find ways to engage people on other platforms and get them back to us and use the product,” Schibsted’s Sidney Glastad told participants at WAN-IFRA’s recent Digital Media Europe conference, which took place at Schibsted’s headquarters in Oslo.
Sharing is caring (and helpful for retaining)
The publisher continually experiments with various features to retain users and Glastad, who is in charge of growth and target groups, discussed some of the things they have found to be most successful.
For example, Aftenposten gives subscribers the ability to share their digital subscription with someone else, and in fact, they strongly encourage this practice. Why? For one thing, it helps users to see extra value in their subscription.
It’s also a powerful force in retention. If a reader goes to cancel their subscription, the first screen they encounter shows the name of the person they share their subscription with and asks the user if they are sure they want to take that gift away.
“Sharing your ‘extra user’ with someone really has a strong effect on retention for us. Every time we do a push to get a lot of people to do that, we see the amount of people who share really explode, and we see immediately that their retention rates go up,” Glastad said.
Other features they have found to be helpful in retention are their replica edition and app. Subscribers who make use of either of these features are far more likely to remain subscribers, he added.
Then there are the numerous ways Aftenposten encourages readers to keep coming back, such as trying to get people to associate a certain day with certain features or products. For example, reminding readers to visit them on Mondays to find out the focus of their news podcasts, or on Tuesdays, subscribers might want to read a recommendation for what to watch on TV.
These are aimed at creating habits that will have readers coming back regularly.
Phases of the on-boarding process
All of these features and habit builders are part of Aftenposten’s on-boarding process to welcome new subscribers while at the same time beginning the publisher’s efforts to keep them.
Because they have different subscription types, print and digital, as well as subscribers in a variety of different age groups, they also differ in how they communicate with their subscribers, Glastad said.
“What we’re doing with our on-boarding is the tiny things that are actually having an impact on our retention and how we try to incorporate that into our on-boarding and our communication with our subscribers.” he said.
Aftenposten’s primary on-boarding phase runs from the subscriber’s first day to their 52nd.
A secondary phase focuses on getting those users who have yet to share their subscription with someone else to do so. “That’s trigger-based, so you only get it if you don’t share,” Glastad said.
“In addition to that,” he continued, “all subscribers get offers from our loyalty programme every week, also divided into age groups, so we give different kinds of offers to different age groups.”
Subscribers also get a weekly letter from Aftenposten’s editor, which has a high open rate.
“We try to make our communication as relevant as possible. It sounds a bit old-fashioned to trigger based on age, but it really works, especially with what kind of offers we show with the loyalty programme because there’s not a lot of 30-year-olds dying to go on a river boat cruise that costs 5,000 euros in Spain,” he said.
Some of the features they’ve found to contribute to retention are subscribers who sign up for newsletters, listening to their podcasts and using their brain-teasers and games, Glastad said. Also, opinion and commentary.
There are some challenges of having an on-boarding that’s primarily email these days.
“Fewer and fewer of our subscribers open their emails,” Glastad said.
While more than 60 percent of new subscribers open the first email they receive after signing up, the order confirmation email, the open rate falls off steadily after that, he said.
“On the fifth email, you get pretty low conversion or open rates and read rates. So that’s a big challenge. If we really want to get a lot of people to understand something that we’re doing, we put it in the order confirmation,” Glastad said.
Likewise, SMS might seem like a great way of communicating with subscribers quickly and directly on their most personal device, but it also carries risks.
“That’s a really tricky one because we have to be very mindful of how we use it,” he said. “If somebody just texts back ‘Stop,’ they withdraw their consent to Schibsted as a whole, so we are not able to speak to them at all. So we are really, really mindful of how we use that.”
Yet another major challenge is people who subscribe and then basically just disappear, never coming back to the site.
“We really would like to have people who are engaged in the product,” Glastad said. “That’s a very huge challenge, the proportion of subscribers who are sort of dead subscribers. People you don’t see again. People who don’t know they have a subscription. They might have forgotten about it. Then you have a lot of people who might suddenly unsubscribe. For instance, recently in Norway, one of our largest banks allowed you to unsubscribe to all your subscriptions through the banking app. That obviously resulted in a lot of people remembering they had subscriptions they weren’t interested in having.”
Let subscribers get involved
Those issues aside, Aftenposten has also discovered a number of positive correlations during their on-boarding experiments.
One is personified on-boarding where they gave subscribers the option of choosing among three types of Aftenposten staff who would tell them about the product. They could choose a journalist, commentator or an editor to follow during those first 30 days.
“That was pretty fun,” he said. “It increased renewals, but it only increased renewals among those who chose actively.”
He said they had also tried a version where Aftenposten itself decided whether to have a journalist, commentator or editor as the person the new subscriber followed, but that didn’t work as well.
“So our takeaway from that is have a new subscriber take an active choice or make some sort of personalisation to their own product that is really effective,” he said.
In a related experiment, they offered subscribers a daily article, where they could receive a specific kind of article emailed to them daily. They could choose between either a daily “opinion and commentary” article or one from “features and culture.”
This experiment also was well received, Glastad said, adding that those who chose “opinion and commentary,” had the highest renewal rate, which they found quite interesting.
Among Aftenposten’s next planned experiments is finding out if there is a connection between their video content and retaining subscribers, he said, and they are going to expand some of their social media efforts.
“We’re going to do more testing on Facebook because that’s one of the biggest media channels in Norway. So that’s really a great way for us to reach people,” he said.