Audience Engagement Digital Innovation Top Stories
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“We’re experimenting with reader access”: Interview with The Washington Post’s Chief Revenue Officer, Joy Robins

At the recent Web Summit in Lisbon, we sat down with Joy Robins, Chief Revenue Officer at The Washington Post, to obtain a pulse check on the business of news. A few key themes emerged, including flexible reader access, micropayments and bundles, as well as the importance of doubling down on audience needs.

Now in her third year at The Washington Post, following five years at Quartz, Joy Robins oversees a team of more than 300 staff covering advertising, subscriptions, and other products such as WaPo’s Zeus Prime ad network. We began by asking what her team was currently focusing on…

WNIP: Where are you currently placing a lot of your attention?

Joy Robins: “Increasingly we are trying to ensure that our product focus follows what the audience needs, as ultimately this drives the business. Our entire business strategy is rooted in our audience insights, and being able to better serve our readers will ultimately lead to a stronger business. So much can be missed by not focusing on the reader. 

“We’re spending a lot more time understanding the user journey, the user story, where they come from, what experience they are having with our content, etc. By understanding this better,  we can continue to evolve the product in a way that gives readers a better experience over time.”

So much of these user journey insights also help fuel our advertising business because they are delivering key data points that are unique to The Washington Post. We have a research, analytics, and data science team, who are constantly looking at this

Joy Robins, Chief Revenue Officer, The Washington Post

WNIP: We’ve noticed you recently raised your subscription price?

Joy Robins: “Yes, for the first time since the launch of our subscriptions we’ve decided to raise our monthly price. 

“We raised prices at the beginning of October and we’ve seen nothing that was unexpected, yes there was a small bump in churn but nothing we hadn’t predicted. Again, it’s not something unique to us, and it’s meant we have to be even more sure of the product we’re offering to our subscribers.”

We need to be cognizant of delivering value for our subscribers especially at a time when they’re needing to prioritize what they’re spending their money on. We have always had to have a heightened sense of that but now more than ever.

Joy Robins, Chief Revenue Officer, The Washington Post

WNIP: What are your main challenges right now? 

Joy Robins: “It’s ultimately about getting the entire company aligned with who we are. It can’t be advertising or subscriptions, we have to think about how everything we do continues to fortify our business. And so, really, it’s about getting everyone to own that through shared goals, shared accountability, and if we do that successfully it becomes less about challenges and more about the opportunities.

“Inevitably there is a question mark around the advertising market in 2023, we’ve heard from advertisers that they are uncertain about what their budgets will look like. What it means is that we will have to remain incredibly focused on delivering quality audiences, at scale, and demonstrating outcomes that meet our clients’ KPIs.”

WNIP: What would you have done differently in hindsight looking back?

Joy Robins: “We definitely took an early approach to first-party data at The Post, but looking back five years I’d have deepened and accelerated that even more. It’s not just about paywalls, it’s also how you focus on lead nurture, changing unknown users into knowns, and ultimately how you parallel that with your advertising business.”

WNIP: At this year’s Web Summit, we’re seeing increasing talk around micropayments. What is your view on that?

Joy Robins: “I do believe there is a product that is not just the cover-to-cover access that a full subscription gives. Whether micropayments are the answer is still debatable.

“However, we are experimenting with different ways of providing reader access and bundles. That’s merely pragmatic, especially with a new generation of subscribers coming of age and thinking what they want from a product, especially the flexibility.

“We’re researching it internally with our ‘5 by 25 team’ (5M subs by 2025) and they are looking into products that aren’t our all-access subscription product, but instead offer more limited exposure. This isn’t something we would do lightly so we’re being thorough about it, including in-depth qualitative interviews around the correlation between price, access, and willingness to subscribe.”

There is a lot of risk to your own subscriber base. The idea that they would trade down is really problematic but we are thinking of limited flexibility, such as a starter subscription. But the point remains, we need to be open-minded to more flexible product offerings.

Joy Robins, Chief Revenue Officer, The Washington Post

WNIP: What advice would you give other publishers right now?

Joy Robins: “You must pinpoint your true value proposition, ask what do you do better than any other publisher serving the same audience? Then you need to ask how else you can serve those readers. 

“Increasingly, we’re seeing personalities matter – journalism was the original creator economy so how do you also ensure that you have journalists who are increasingly developing relationship with readers? Getting the right mix of personality and brand isn’t easy to achieve, but it’s worthwhile.”

WNIP: Thank you.