Digital Publishing Reader Revenue Top Stories
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How to continue growing subscribers post-pandemic: Publisher strategies

The total market for digital subscriptions will grow to $1.5T by 2025 from the current $650B, according to a report from subscription management solutions provider Lineup. The report predicts that subscriptions will have staying power post-pandemic. And while subscriber commitment issues will persist, subscriptions will continue to grow beyond the media model. 

“Chugging along at a healthy post-pandemic rate”

This is echoed in FIPP’s Global Digital Subscription Snapshot Q2 2022. “When we look at the latest set of data,” writes James Hewes, President and CEO, FIPP, “the real headline takeaway is that publishers seem to be chugging along at a healthy post-pandemic rate.” 

There has been a sense in the industry this year that the global exit from lockdown could have prompted a significant drop-off in publication subscriber numbers, whereas so far this does not appear to be the case.

Global Digital Subscription Snapshot Q2 2022

The FIPP report covers 121 individual titles with a global reach of 37.8M subscriptions. The largest chunk of which belongs to The New York Times with 9.5M subscribers. The publisher has also grown its number of gross active subscriptions to 10.85M, which indicates its success in cross-selling brands and brand verticals to its core subscriber base. 

Its recent acquisition spree including Wordle and The Athletic bought the Times tens of millions of new users. CEO Meredith Kopit Levien was reported as saying that the company is off to a strong start to achieve its goal of reaching 15M subscribers by the end of 2027.

Source: Global Digital Subscription Snapshot Q2 2022

“Opportunity to develop a strong, lasting relationship”

Although the Times’ achievement is massive compared to other publishers, many continue to show impressive growth. These include regional players as can be seen in the above figure. 

Many of the titles featured in the Global Digital Subscription Snapshot report “have enjoyed tremendous success with hard paywall strategies, but a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for all publishers.” 

French publisher Alternatives Economiques (AE) has successfully used newsletter walls to increase its paywall conversion rates by 40%. The strategy involves blocking content and asking readers to sign up for a weekly newsletter to gain access to free articles. AE has gained over 360,000 newsletter subscribers with this approach.

Newsletter walls allow for content discovery, increased engagement, and the opportunity to develop a strong, lasting relationship that supports their subscription conversion rate.

Global Digital Subscription Snapshot Q2 2022

The Guardian, committed to remaining free for its users online, announced that it will experiment with a paywall on its new app. The publisher has successfully used the membership model to generate revenues. Italy’s Il Post is another title that has been successful without using a paywall. It uses the membership model and currently has more than 50,000 paying members. 

“Invest in accuracy, in trustworthiness, in clarity”

Il Post’s success is attributed to its mission of explaining things better than its peers. This made it stand out in the Italian market – which was, in a sense, confusing for readers as there were no separate categories of tabloid and serious newspapers, founder Luca Sofri told Press Gazette. 

What we did at the time was not, from our point of view, so innovative – it was just something that you couldn’t find in Italy… invest in accuracy, in trustworthiness, in clarity in explaining things.

Luca Sofri, Founder, Il Post

The strategy coincidentally also helped the publisher attract young readers. “It wasn’t our aim to get to young readers,” explained Sofri. “Our aim was to explain things better. 

“But what happened was that you explain things better, and you put things in context, and you tell stories [about what] happened in the past century and so on – the young readers are the ones most interested. They find there what they don’t find somewhere else.”

News brands are increasingly leveraging their journalistic qualities in an attempt to gain subscribers, according to INMA. Many publishers have altered the content of their subscription landing pages – 72% of the top 50 news brands now include content that focuses on their credentials and the importance of quality journalism.

“Further innovations in this area ahead”

Other growth strategies being used by publishers include expanding beyond their current readership/region. Like French newspaper Le Monde launched an English site to reach its goal of 1M subscribers by 2025. 

The publisher expects to hit a subscriber ceiling in France soon and is targeting the US market for further growth. Its English language site attracted 1,000 new subscribers in the first week of launch and the company hopes to see this increase to 30,000 by year-end.

Meanwhile, Hearst Newspapers is investing in a new data and product hub. It will be a shared, central resource supporting the group’s 24 daily and 52 weekly titles, and have more than 20 specialists from fields like product, data and design. 

The publisher ended 2021 with 300,000 digital-only subscribers – an increase of 50% from the previous year –  its most successful year in history for growing digital subscribers.

As we move into a new era in media, and the ‘Cookiepocalypse’ moves closer to becoming a reality, it’s obvious that the shift towards reader revenues has been a smart one, and we would expect to see further innovations in this area ahead. 

James Hewes, President & CEO, FIPP

The full report can be downloaded from FIPP:
Global Digital Subscription Snapshot Q2 2022