Digital Subscriptions-Meters, Marketing and Analytics


Just having a meter on your content isn’t enough. As newspapers focus on growing digital subscriptions, more newspaper companies acknowledge the “low hanging” fruit has been captured by newspapers that have had an aggressive paid content strategy in place for an extended time. In simple terms, while the number of subscriptions continues to grow, we’re getting closer to securing most of the digital subscribers that we can acquire by putting our content behind the meter.                                                    

Of course, there are exceptions to that. Many newspapers (including some in Morris) are still experimenting with the meter settings and what content “ticks” to find the elusive and fictitious balance between pageviews and subscriptions. So for those newspapers, their payday awaits a more aggressive position.  That’s good.

But what happens after that? What other factors play an important role?

Marketing. We have to do a much better job of marketing our digital subscriptionsmarketingWhen we launched our pay meters (or in most cases-All Access models), we had solid promotional launch campaigns to drive sales. Radio, billboards and in some cases, TV. But after that, then what?

Looking at approximately 15-20 sites daily (including our own), most of the promotions have been in place for too long. The same design, with the same offer, in the same place, day after day. They become invisible. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal buck this trend.

Why? Is it a resource, logistical, promotional space issue or, more likely, a lack of commitment to the goal of growing digital subscriptions? The first one is a much easier fix.

Ask yourself these questions.

How many of us have a digital subscription promotional calendar in place for 2014?       How often are we changing out the message, the design and the offer?                             Have we tested multiple offers via social media?                                                                     How do our subscription pages look on mobile?                                                                   Where, outside of our own products, are we promoting sales?                                               Are we retargeting potential subscribers with a different offer?

Testing different price points is also a critical part of a marketing strategy. Is $9.95 the ideal price? Would $7.99 generate more subscriptions and ultimately more revenue? How effective are $0.99 introductory offers in terms of acquisition and retention? Are their experts who can help us balance subscription volumes and revenue by determining a better price point? Should you sell digital bundles or offer individual platforms?

These questions demand in-market testing and experimentation.

A/B testing of price points and messaging can help determine what works best. Digital subscriptions are the perfect place to use this option. The good news is that many newspaper companies are climbing on board the A/B testing bandwagon.  It’s quick and easy to put into place and can reveal much about finding the sweet spot in terms of marketing, messaging and pricing.

Marketing subscriptions in the digital space is a strategy that has to be in constant motion. Develop, test, launch, measure and refine. It’s never-ending.


And don’t leave analytics out. They are a key piece of solving the digital subscription puzzle and while this may be the new frontier for circulation/audience executives, it’s critical to maximizing our opportunities to grow digital subscription volumes.

How many unique visitors to your website actually see a stop light box notifying them they’ve reached their viewing limit in a given month (you’d be surprised how small the percentage is)?  Of those that were stopped, what’s the sales conversion rate? What’s a good level for both of these metrics?

Comparing these two, uniques stops and conversions, can reveal much about your content, the liberal nature of your paywall and your pricing/messaging.

Knowing where readers encounter the ‘stop’ box can help you make content and promotional decisions. Monitor time and exits from purchase pages. Retention and reacquisition can’t be overlooked either. What offers are the best in terms of the lengthening the life of a subscription? Should your offer monthly subscriptions as well as annual? How do you market to subscribers that have left you? Measuring the success of different marketing, pricing, retention and reacquisition initiatives is critical. Track everything. Measure it all.

Lastly, according to several newspaper company reports and research, up to 75% of digital-only subscribers aren’t subscribers that have “crossed over” from print. Read that again and get very excited.  This is a new revenue stream and critical to the success of your newspaper.

Growing digital subscriptions doesn’t happen just because your content is good and you have a pleasant pay meter offer. Constantly, you need to evaluate and reset the strategy to reach many different users and their various behaviors.

About Jeff Hartley

Career Newspaper Executive specializing in Consumer Revenue Growth-both print and digital. Social Media and Mobile Enthusiast. Frequent speaker on consumer revenue and print/digital audience growth.
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2 Responses to Digital Subscriptions-Meters, Marketing and Analytics

  1. Dick Fuller says:

    Jeff, when you say several newspapers report that 75% of digital subs have not crossed over from print, does that mean they were not print subscribers? In our market we discovered the digital subs have no history of print subscriptions with us, which is interesting, but our theory here is that they were are Single Copy buyers who always preferred SC vs Home Delivery. Not sure if we are accurate, but our SC sales number decline seems to be close to the new digital only subscription totals. That does not make me excited as those folks were paying me over $40 per month in SC compared to the $10 per month digital rate. If we are correct we will need to sell 5 digital subscriptions for every lost SC buyer to grow revenues. Hope our assumption is wrong, but if not, we could see some erosion of revenue if it is correct.

    • Jeff Hartley says:

      Dick-sorry for how long it took for me to reply. I’m not sure I could tie the decline in SC buyers to the growth in digital only subscriptions, with SC declining for a myriad of reasons already. My belief is that a small portion of digital only subscribers may have been print readers (HD and SC) long ago, but haven’t had a purchasing relationship with us for some time (with the exception of Sunday SC perhaps).

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