ON DECEMBER 9, 2021, the International News Media Association (INMA) hosted a media subscriptions town hall to discuss the results of an eight-month lab for publishers in Europe.
There are three main models being pursued by publishers – revenue from advertisers, revenue from readers and support through public service funding.
According to Greg Piechota of INMA, during the covid19 crisis demand for online news grew dramatically and publishers translated that higher demand into subscriptions, registering a 95 per cent growth in online news subscriptions.
Brands that began running subscription programmes over the last three to six years registered growth of over 300 per cent.
Mature subscription programmes running for more than six years logged the lowest increases, suggesting that relative newcomers, willing to be nimble in their approach, can improve their subscription numbers dramatically.
Why are subscriptions important?
They establish an important link between news creators and consumers. With the collapse of online advertising for media companies, 2015 marked the break point for a shift in revenue emphasis from advertisers, currently at 46 per cent of the revenue pie relative to consumer-derived income.
Of all the ways that media firms can engage with consumers for revenue, subscriptions have emerged as the most favoured.
The event was produced in collaboration with Google News and FT Strategies.
"For the Financial Times, the customer is the reader, not the advertiser," said Tara Lajumoke, managing director of FT Strategies, UK.
While the company has a healthy advertiser, subscription and events ecosystem, Lajumoke acknowledged, "It’s almost impossible to serve every customer equally at every point in time, so for us there is a lot of work around emphasising who the priority customer is."
In creating one of the most successful subscription systems in modern media, FT emphasised the development of skill sets in data, analytics, marketing, pricing, editorial and creating new editorial products.
Today, half of the skills in use at FT didn't exist in the company at all a decade ago.
"We sent a very clear signal by appointing a chief data officer to the board."
To encourage the building of these new skills, FT encouraged the formation of cross-functional teams that worked across departments and introduced the new concepts to the business.
"A hallmark of success is agility, the ability to respond quickly," said Lajumoke, "to deploy the assets and the capabilities that you have more efficiently than your competitors."
Martin Prinz, head of subscriptions, Oberosterreischische Nachtrichten, Austria, a participant in the workshop, explained that the company is targeting volume in subscriptions.
"The multidisciplinary team is made up of marketing, editorial, product and tech," Prinz said while acknowledging that the newsroom should be more integrated into the projects underway.
"If the content isn't relevant enough or exclusive enough for our readers, they don't convert (to paid subscriptions).”
Once you are in the subscriptions game, you are no longer competing with local media, you are in competition with everyone offering paid news in the news space that you occupy, so the competitive stance has to evolve from local to global in one significant jump.
The Irish Independent, another workshop participant, began subscriptions for its digital product recently.
"It's strange to think that in February 2020, a newspaper that's well over a hundred years old had its first B2C customer," said Ronan Doyle, the paper's retention manager.
"Previously we sold the paper to shops, and they had the relationship with customers.
"Overseas diaspora audiences are particularly important for Ireland, so we need to research, build out and understand where the growth opportunities are.
"People have a degree of brand loyalty if there's a product and content that they really appreciate."
Mark Lyndersay is the editor of technewstt.com. An expanded version of this column can be found there