A path to sustainability led by digital subscriptions

During my 10 years at The
Boston Globe
, we took a different path than most publishers. In
2011, we built a state-of-the-art website that was supported almost
entirely by digital subscriptions, at a time when it was uncertain
if readers would ever pay for news online. Today, digital
subscriptions revenue alone more than
covers for the cost
of The Globe’s newsroom. Motivated to
help others in the industry, I’ve since joined FTI Consulting, where I advise
local publishers as they navigate the same existential business
questions as we did.

Since I spent the last decade of my life pioneering a new
business model for journalism, people often ask me if digital
subscriptions can be a viable strategy for local news. Experience
has taught me the simple answer is yes.

That’s why FTI Consulting partnered with the Google News
Initiative on the
GNI Digital Growth Program
, a free program to help more small
and mid-sized news publishers around the world achieve digital
success. Reader revenue is central to the program’s curriculum,
which is supported through
interactive exercises
, workshops
. The workshops are currently guiding publishers through
reader revenue models and sharing lessons learned from news
organizations around the world, including those which have
participated in the
GNI Subscriptions Labs
in North America, Latin America, Europe
and Asia Pacific.

Publishers in the North America program, which FTI Consulting
partnered on with Google and the Local Media Association, are
great examples of the growth potential for local news. While the
year-long Lab focused on helping news companies dive deep on
digital subscriptions wrapped about six months ago, these
publishers share a continued commitment to sustainability led by
reader revenue.

As of August, the median year-over-year gain in digital
subscriptions revenue for the participating publishers was 86
percent, compared to the industry average of 45 percent. While the
business model of each organization is unique, these publishers
achieved a higher level of performance by rallying around a shared
set of digital metrics proven to make business impact.

For starters, they nearly doubled the conversion rates of their
online readers to paying subscribers since the start of the Lab.
They achieved this dramatic increase through a variety of tested
tactics, including making digital subscriptions a priority, asking
readers more often to subscribe and sign up for newsletters,
improving and simplifying the online subscription checkout process
and increasing website page speed.�

What may be most impressive, though, is that these publishers
were able to grow their overall number of subscribers without deep
discounts or aggressive promotional offers. In fact, they raised
the prices of their digital subscription offerings, even during
today’s pandemic. The group’s average revenue per user (ARPU)
has increased by 24 percent.

More important than the tactical improvements, publishers
involved with the Lab have been able to create the “reader
revenue machine,†a term that I use to describe a publisher that
has put in place the mindset, processes, capabilities and
technology to grow reader revenue continuously. 

A good example of this transformation is The Portland Press Herald. In
March, they launched “Digital Only Mondays,†which means they
no longer print physical newspapers on Mondays. Within the first
few weeks, this experiment increased the digital engagement of
their print subscribers by 26 percent, and significantly reduced
costs by eliminating one day of printing. The result as of July:
The Press Herald was up 114 percent in digital subscriptions
revenue compared to last year, and their staff gained the
confidence to make bold decisions to support their digital

The reader revenue growth of The Press Herald is just one
example of the bright spots I’ve seen shaping the future of local
news. Through the GNI Digital Growth Program, I’m looking forward
to working with Google to scale these insights and real world
examples to help more publishers build sustainable business models
for local journalism.

For those interested in learning more about the best practices
that have helped publishers achieve digital subscriber success,
join me, Google, other industry leaders and nearly 2,000 news
organizations globally for our Reader Revenue workshops. Coming up
next week, I will co-host a panel on this very topic. To sign up,
visit the workshop
registration page

Source: FS – Social Media Blogs 2
A path to sustainability led by digital