New Reader Revenue report highlights 10 best practice case studies

2024-02-02. We continually report on how news publishers, both large and small, in countries worldwide are successfully developing and fine-tuning their reader revenue initiatives to build their subscriber base and reduce churn. Our latest report highlights 10 of the most interesting cases we have encountered in the past 12 months.

by Brian Veseling | February 2, 2024

For this edition, we are pleased to spotlight news publishers based in eight countries on four continents. Most are regional or national publishers; a couple have global reach, and two also publish a number of small, local titles. So, regardless of the size of your publishing house, there are bound to be some takeaways you can learn from and adapt.
Most traditional news publishers now realise they need to increase the percentage of revenue they get directly from their readers, but figuring out the best approach can be challenging.
This report is available free for WAN-IFRA Members, click here for details.
A starting point for many news organisations is to require online readers to register to access content on the publisher’s website and to begin using a paywall. Maybe not a hard paywall at first, but one that gradually reduces the number of freely available articles that a user can access within a given time frame before requiring a subscription. This model has become increasingly popular, and it has many benefits.

Direct user data helps fine-tune strategies, reduce churn

Requiring registration generates direct, first-party data that helps news publishers learn more about their readers and their activities while they are accessing the publisher’s site.
Having first-party data enables publishers to fine-tune their content offerings and their subscription drives, as well as reduce subscriber churn.
Our report aims to help news publishers find ways to further hone their reader revenue efforts and, perhaps, explore new streams and strategies by learning more about what some of their peers around the world are doing.

Getting people to spend more time with your products

For example, in our first case study, The New York Times is finding that audio adds a sensory touchpoint to the Times’ overall bundle of key products, to further bring them to life and create experiences that will encourage subscribers to return. This has led them to introduce NYT Audio, their first new app in nine years.
“If people subscribe to multiple products, they spend more time, they find more value, they are less likely to churn,” Zoe Murphy, Assistant Editor NYT Audio, told participants of a WAN-IFRA webinar in December.
Meanwhile, in our case study about India’s The Hindu, readers will see how a major national news publisher that has traditionally relied on advertising, is balancing their reader revenue efforts while maintaining their advertising business.
“Every time we decided to take an action in favour of reader revenue, we had to calculate the probable loss in the ad revenue and only when we saw that subscription would get us a better return, we moved ahead,” Pradeep Gairola, VP and Business Head – Digital, The Hindu, told us.

Using data to help make decisions

Belgium-based Mediahuis is working with data to drive new subscriptions as well as help them keep their existing subscribers.
“Machine learning models are great at identifying past trends from data sets, learning them, and predicting new behaviour patterns for new users,” said Jessica Bulthé, Data Science Business Partner.
This helped Mediahuis increase retention by over 14 percent in just three months, and they now have around 1.8 million subscribers across the group.

New products to reach new audiences

A major challenge for the Financial Times, and many publishers, is reaching new, younger audiences. Another complication is that the FT has a hard paywall, with very few free articles.

“Even though we feel our luxury status symbol product is buying us a bit of time, we still need to look at these more price-sensitive, younger readers,” said McKinley Hyden, the FT’s Director of Analytics Business Impact.

As part of these efforts, the company launched FT Edit, a standalone app that allows users to access eight articles per day.

People will pay for quality journalism they can’t get elsewhere

And it’s not just traditional, legacy publishers that are seeing the importance and value of reader revenue.
Joshi Herrmann, a journalist who formerly wrote for mainstream publishers such as The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph, decided to launch a newsletter a few years ago to deliver news he felt was being unreported in the Manchester, UK, area.
The model has now spread to two more cities in England – Liverpool and Sheffield. In total, the three newsletters have more than 40,000 registered users and have managed to convert 4,350 to paid subscriptions. Subscribers pay 70 pounds a year (about 80 euros).
“People are willing to pay for very small quantities of local journalism if the journalism is very, very good. And if the journalism is something they can’t get anywhere else,” Herrmann said.

Digital growth can compensate for print declines

Norway’s Amedia publishes nearly 90 regional newspapers across the country, but for nearly four years now, digital has been their biggest subscription product.
In fact, their digital growth has more than compensated for the declines they’ve suffered in print, Eivor Jerpåsen, Amedia’s Editorial Product Director, told participants at our Newsroom Summit conference in Oslo.
“Our biggest sales channels are the articles, so we thought ‘How can we improve our most important channel? How can we make that optimal?’ ” she said.

Success is a team effort

Another important point about succeeding with reader revenue initiatives is that they almost always require team efforts that involve multiple departments within a publishing house.

As Richard Prest of DC Thomson told participants at our Newsroom Summit in Oslo, there was no single factor that helped the Scottish publishing house achieve 30,000 paying digital subscribers in just a few years. Rather, it’s a combination of different efforts from various teams and departments across the organisation.

“It’s multiple different factors, and different teams involved that have helped make that change possible. No one department can say they are responsible for the success,” Prest said.

For those interested in Reader Revenue, we strongly encourage you to subscribe to our free newsletter, (published twice a month). In addition to case studies, it contains links to the best reader revenue-related articles we have found during the previous two weeks, as well as facts and figures that typically highlight the number of digital subscribers various publishers have. This provides a useful benchmark for those wishing to see how their numbers measure up against others.
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