How to convert digital readers into paying subscribers

Is it boom or doom in the news business? For publishers, it’s essential to convert digital readers into paying subscribers as news outlets can’t live off print anymore. Thus, it’s crucial to move from subscribers on print to digital if not ad-paid, but content-paid.

But not all is lost as the good news for digital publishers is that audiences are on the rise thanks to mobile.

“70% of Internet use is now on a mobile, and the use of a desktop for the Internet will fall by almost 16%, this year” – Jonathan Barnard, Zenith’s head of forecasting.

But most of the mobile visits are coming from social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat. This brings in traffic from people who otherwise might not engage with a particular media brand.

We at bmetric see this being a huge opportunity for publishers to convert those readers to subscribers. That is why we have put together this blog post together with this ebook (Get your copy here) that helps figure out a strategy for this blooming mobile age.

So how to improve the cross-channel experience?

An online reader finally subscribing to your newspaper isn’t always a one-step journey. It can happen, but it is normally a long process. During this journey, your efforts in making it as positive as possible are all dependent on your strategy used – a misuse of an offer can be an opportunity lost.

Let’s first have a look at various publishing models to get an understanding of what kind of strategies are most common and popular to use. Then we can make assumptions on what kind of strategies we would suggest applying for a better cross-channel experience.

Various publishing models used today

For the past two decades, publishers have been struggling with revenue and are therefore trying to find new ways to sustain. We have looked into some of the models that news organizations use now to figure out the pros and cons to each.

In the chart below, in which 98 papers were studied by the American Press Institute, you can see the most popular subscription models used today.


Data Source: American Press Institute Independent review of newspapers with circulations over 50,000

• Meter – in which a number of articles can be read before a subscription is required.

• Freemium – in which most content is free, but premium articles or sections require a subscription or to register.

• Hard – in which subscriptions are required to access the vast majority of the website.

• Not Required – in which a publishing company has chosen to avoid paywalls altogether and are probably focusing on advertising instead.

A metered paywall is by far the most popular option to monetize media website content. Usually, only regular users will be impacted, but those who visit occasionally will probably never reach their pageview limit.

That already might be a major flaw in the strategy. While the objective with different paywalls is clear – getting free readers to subscribe after a number of articles read – the problem is that you might be forcing people into doing something that they might not be ready for.

When it comes to the freemium and hard model, it makes sense for companies who have a large reader base and a lot of different kind of content as the quality of your content has to be high for your premium material to be perceived as a notch above others. If similar content is available elsewhere for free, readers are reluctant to pay.

As advertising has always been part of publishers’ business models, some tend to just rely on that while others use both advertising and paywalls. For an entertainment-focused publisher such as BuzzFeed, advertising works because the site creates content that is indistinguishable from its regular content, apart from the name of the brand that is sponsoring it.

But for a more traditional publisher outlet, monetizing with ads is somewhat rockier. While some revenue is made, the content isn’t as “shareable worthy” as it is with BuzzFeed. Therefore for a paper like The New York Times, a subscription-based model works better. The content is known for high quality and people are willing to pay for it. They even recently reported that in the third quarter of 2016, digital subscriptions grew at the fastest pace since the launch of the pay model in 2011.

We can state that a metered paywall, which allows customers to determine the value of the content is best to use. But it all comes down to the kind of a news outlet you are and the strategy that you use to engage with your readers. We can’t help pick your model, but we can help with the strategy.

By taking into consideration the most popular publishing model and the research, we have put together a user persona.

User persona: Ms. X journey

We describe a 5 stage customer journey, where a reader comes across a news outlet called Paper News.

Every stage has a possibility of getting a conversion. But you have to be ready with a long-term strategy for all stages, as sometimes your readers need more time to decide if they want to become a subscriber. So it’s important to be ready for all types of situations in the journey.

Therefore, at every stage, we have the do’s and don’ts for a conversion and what to do if the reader doesn’t convert at a particular stage.

Company: Paper News
Industry: Newspaper
Strategy: Paper News uses a metered paywall (set to 4 free articles) together with slide-ins and offers to engage with their readers. They find it extremely important to first identify where a visitor is on their journey and what their relation is with Paper News before taking any further actions. This is because they know that the relation to their brand heavily affects their reader’s likelihood of subscribing.

Stage 1: Creating a relationJanuary 5th: Ms. X comes across an article on Facebook about the international news that she finds of interest. She clicks on it and starts reading the article.

What we can tell from her behavior: The chances are Ms. X landed on the Paper News’ article either through Facebook suggestions or that someone had shared their article. The important part is that it triggered interest. Therefore, Ms. X might like the article or in the best case scenario, she starts following Paper News on Facebook. This making it possible to build a further relation.

Want to know what the other stages are?

Get a copy of our ebook here, where you find the entire user journey + expert advice.

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