With 700,000 paying subscribers, digital more profitable than print for Argentina’s Clarín

2023-07-19. With 30 million readers, and paying digital subscribers surging past 700,000, Clarín has the distinction of having the largest number of paid digital users for any news publisher in Latin America.

by Brian Veseling | July 19, 2023

“Clarín is the only Latin American media outlet to be ranked among the top 20 in digital subscribers. We have 700,000 subscribers nowadays, and we are very proud of it,” says Emilio Basavilbaso, Chief Operating Officer at Clarín, Argentina’s largest newspaper.

Despite facing huge challenges because of the country’s poor economy, they are now setting their sights even higher.

“Last year we committed to a new plan to get to a million subscribers in the next three years,” Basavilbaso told participants at WAN-IFRA’s World News Media Congress in Taipei.

As part of this plan, they are working to get into other markets.

See also: Clarín won our Digital Media Award Worldwide for Best Digital Subscription Initiative this year. Find out more about it and see the other winners.

Specifically, Clarín has many readers in the United States, which has a large Latin American population, “so we are working to develop also new subscriptions there,” he said.

Diversifying to help drive core business

While noting the news product is the heart of the company, Basavilbaso said they realised the economic challenges in the industry made it vital for them to expand their offerings.

“We developed different business units because we are convinced that we have to develop different businesses to keep our business healthy,” he said.

For example, Clarín launched a sports newspaper called Olé, the first and only sports newspaper in the country.

Clarín is also investing heavily in games, Basavilbaso said.

“I’m very proud of Gran DT. This is a game where our subscribers play to be the manager of a football team, and they have to compete with others,” he said.

In addition, they have established a popular property portal called Argenprop.

Furthermore, they create educational content that they sell to both public and private schools called Tinta Fresca.

‘The digital unit will be 80 percent of our revenue’

While Clarín was founded 80 years ago, “the truth is that in the last eight years, our business was reinvented,” Basavilbaso said.

Their journey into digital subscriptions is even younger.

“Four or five years ago, we started with a subscription model, and we had only 20 percent of our revenues coming from the digital business. Now we can say that we earn more money in the digital business than in the print business. And in four or five years time, the digital unit will be 80 percent of our revenue,” he said.

Fast changes and risks, but also massive opportunities

“Things are changing fast, and we have to be aware of the changes. We often speak about the risks of this new world, this internet and digital world, but we also have to consider the opportunities,” Basavilbaso said.

For example, 30 million people visit Clarín’s site every month. “That’s a blessing for us. In the past, let’s say 10, 20 years ago, we used to sell a million and a half print copies of the newspaper every Sunday. That was our record,” he said.

Now, though, with millions of people coming to Clarín online (Argentina’s population is about 46 million people), they have a huge opportunity to increase their subscribers.

“We all know they are sporadic readers, and they don’t pay anything to read one note, two pieces or three pieces, but we have the opportunity to convert them, to turn them loyal and then to subscribe,” Basavilbaso said.

Therefore, Clarín is regularly observing the reading time, visiting frequency, and preferred sections of these casual visitors in order to develop a good value proposal for them, he added.

Emilio Basavilbaso, Chief Operating Officer at Clarín, speaking in Taipei.

‘We are permanently working on our smart paywall’

In terms of their overall digital subscription model, “there’s no magic in it. We have to generate quality content, and also we are permanently working on our smart paywall. This is our own tool, and we work a lot with it,” Basavilbaso said.

While it is mainly a hard paywall, he said they also experiment with different content limits according to various “clusters.”

For instance, if they detect that a teenager is reading show business news, they will let them continue reading.

“We want him or her to be loyal and to be in touch with our brand,” he said. “Maybe in a couple of months or in a couple of years, we will turn him or her into a subscriber. But we have to consider different clusters to be successful.”

Because they are also working with both a massive audience and loyal readers, they generate different kinds of content for them. 

“But we know the pieces that convert – that bring subscribers – are longer. They have 1,500 words on average. We know they come generally from the economic and political views. We know they have to be signed. But we are learning a lot with all this data,” he said.

While subscribers are vital to Clarín’s new business model, advertising is important as well.

Basavilbaso said their subscription manager and advertising manager are always competing “because the subscriber manager wants to have a hard paywall and to enlarge the revenues from subscribers. And obviously, the manager that runs advertising, he wants to work with a massive audience. So I think the answer is keep in mind this balance in between subscriptions and also the massive audience.”

“If you have a very, very hard paywall, you will lose future clients. It’s a real challenge,” he added.

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