Digital Newspaper Subscriptions: Persuading Users to Cross the Paywall
The toughest part of the publishing business is growing revenue by monetizing digital subscriptions. There are, generally, two subscription strategies substantial enough to sustain your business, or that can, at least, generate relevant income. One is to set up a paywall that people find worth paying for. And the other is to grow your audience and convince readers to become paying subscribers at an affordable fee.
However, the trouble is, with the abundance of free online news outlets and information sources, and the uncertain economic climate due to the pandemic, both approaches are somewhat tricky to tackle.
Reuters Institute Digital News Report states that 40% of Americans are not willing to pay for news and say that nothing can convince them to change their minds. They are content with the information they are receiving from free sources and social media, or are simply not interested in news at all. These are people who can’t be persuaded to support paid content, and no efforts should be wasted trying to.
However, of the remaining 60%, there are many who are open to paying for online news and more than willing to cross the news paywall if what they receive in return answers their needs:
- 17% want more content that is helpful and invaluable.
- 6% need information tailored to their preferences.
- 14% want an ad free experience.
- 18% want lower prices.
- 15% prefer that one price covers more than one, if not all, news outlets.
- 14% prefer a bundled offer that combines with another service.
- 8% would like to see more family accounts and discounts.
By focusing on the readers who are ready to support quality online journalism, you can increase your publication’s revenue and boost subscriptions.
Read on to find actionable strategies on how to persuade casual users to support paid content.
1. Build a Loyal Audience
Although building a loyal audience and convincing people to pay for news can be two completely different battles, they are, nevertheless, connected.
The digital news report by Reuters, the one we quoted earlier, discovered that the most common type of paid online newspaper subscription is the “single brand” one. There are many reasons why people tend to stick with only one paid news source, the top three being:
- There are few platforms that offer content from aggregate paid sources, e.g. from different publishers.
- The monthly prices of subscriptions for quality journalism can be quite steep.
- People are creatures of habit and they prefer online news outlets they already know and trust.
While the price of journalism will most likely not decrease and the marketplace silo for mixed-source news platforms will take its time to sort out, gaining the audience’s trust is something you do have direct control over.
This brings forward the idea that loyalty is a key factor in convincing people to support digital news. To be able to monetize on their willingness to invest in paid content, you have to be the source of information they find most credible.
Building a long-lasting connection with your audience takes time and consistency, but it is, indeed, worth the effort. Your most loyal readers will most likely be the first to cross the paywall and can become your brand’s best advocates. And a loyal audience can help skyrocket your publication’s revenue with digital subscriptions even when profits from ads are declining.
Take, for example, the New York Times. In the middle of the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, the news giant managed to hit the 6 million subscriber milestone and, reportedly, now earns nearly three times as much revenue from readers than it does from its advertisers.
NY Times report adding 587k new digital subs in Q1 (well done!), growing by 3/4 of Gannett’s total number of digital-only subs.
One title growing digital subs by about as much as a company w/261 local papers. In one quarter.
Winner-takes most indeed. https://t.co/2eVZg3lvgF
— Rasmus Kleis Nielsen (@rasmus_kleis) May 6, 2020
A quick thing you can do is check the data on what percentage of your readers visit your publication every day. There are a few less popular data tools by Google, aimed at helping publishers, which connect to your Google Analytics and give insights on the way readers use your site. Some publishers are surprised to see that 10% of their readers may account for 60% of their total pageviews.
For more actionable advice on how to build a loyal audience of readers, you can read DevriX’s article on the topic.
2. Offer an Affordable News Paywall to Your Audience
How much people are ready to invest in your paid content depends not only on the quality you provide but on how deep your customer’s pockets are.
If your target audience consists of teenagers and college students, it’s doubtful that they will be able to afford a high monthly fee. But if you are publishing industry-grade information valuable to professionals and more mature readers, it’s safe to assume that they can pay for such invaluable information.
For example, National Geographic is a magazine with an audience of widely varying ages and although they offer high-quality niche content, the large number of subscribers they have allows them to offer an affordable subscription of $2.99 per month.
Moreover, The Financial News, a highly specialized publication with a limited audience of high-paying customers, costs £40 (around $57) per month and still manages to thrive.
To keep the balance between earning revenue and keeping around customers who are not able to afford a high subscription fee, you can consider devising an all-membership strategy. By dividing your content into tiered subscriptions plans, you can address and target different levels of accessibility:
- A basic plan can feature standard everyday updates and be free of charge or cost a minimal fee.
- An advanced plan can provide access to the same news plus exclusive information, podcasts, and interviews.
- A premium plan can include all of the above but without ads, and as additional perks you can offer access to exclusive digital events, newsletters, seminars, merchandise, breaking news updates, and so on.
Quality journalism is worth paying for and you should let your customers know that. However, if they can’t afford your paywall, they simply won’t switch from casual to paid access. A tiered payment model allows you to retain or broaden your audience by offering more in hopes of convincing them to consider paying for news, instead of flat out depriving themselves of access to newsworthy content.
3. Give Independent Fact-Based Opinions
There’s an ocean of online news outlets today, and so it can be hard for people to find reliable information. Free publications are often viewed as biased, especially when they openly or discretely support political views or industry leaders. More than half the people questioned in a survey say that they find it difficult to identify what is true and what’s not in internet news.
In the world of social media platforms, where fake news spreads like wildfire, having reliable sources of news that they can trust is growingly important to people.
Online newspapers and magazines should labor to build a name for themselves as publications that rely only on solid facts and information. By leveraging this authority, they can convince readers the paid content they produce is worth the money.
People who want to back quality journalism and freedom of speech, are more than willing to pay for independent sources of news and information.
Providing your customers with objective articles and opinions by competent and capable journalists can be enough of a reason for them to accept the news paywall and support your work.
4. Reinforce Your Editorial Team with Popular Journalists
Popular names in your industry are a fine addition to your editorial team and improve the quality of your content. Furthermore, they already have a loyal audience, who are more than likely willing to pay for a subscription if it involves their favorite journalist’s work.
Similarly to print, in the digital world, the authority of the writer reinforces the publication their work appears in. Furthermore, online reputations have the benefit of allowing teams of experts to boost the overall trustworthiness of your brand and your ranking in SERPs.
Expertise, trustworthiness, and authority (E-A-T) are the three core elements of page quality evaluation by Google, and by improving them you can fortify your content SEO and improve your positions in search results.
Websites with high authority have better visibility in organic search and are, generally, considered more reliable by audiences.
Casual readers who discover your content through search engines will be more likely to pay for it if they know that your website is reputable and your articles are written by the best journalists in the niche.
5. Cut Down on the Ads
Ok, so we all know that ads are the main source of revenue for online journalism and as much as 40% of online news outlets focus on this exclusively. But the fact is that most people simply hate ads. The rising discontent with online advertising has become so widespread, that 1 in 7 people are willing to pay for news websites if they promised not to show any ads at all.
Also, with the proliferation of adblockers, installed on both desktop and mobile, PPC ads can become a questionable source of income at best.
Promoting your paid subscriptions as the no-ads version of your publication, along with other perks, can increase the chances of casual users becoming paying subscribers.
6. Cooperate With Industry Leaders
There is more than one way to monetize your content, and pursuing en masse subscription contracts is amongst the most lucrative strategies you can explore.
Corporate companies and other institutions often offer digital subscriptions as a bonus to their employers. These often provide industry knowledge, business insights, or other valuable data that can be of interest to their teams, and provide professional leverage.
Presuming the information you cover is relevant, consider researching companies in your niche to whom your content may be useful, and contact them to negotiate a partnership. A successful deal will boost your subscription rates and also consolidate your position in the industry as a trustworthy and authoritative source of news.
This strategy allows you to reach out to an audience that may, otherwise, not be interested in paid content, but would still find it beneficial. It also has the potential to foster reader loyalty while making a profit.
7. Provide Additional Value with Recreational Content
In the past, when printed editions used to dominate the publishing market, recreational content such as crosswords, puzzles, sudoku, and contests were often the reason why people choose one newspaper or magazine over the other.
Just think of the New York Times’s crossword. It was first introduced in 1942 and has been a hit for almost 60 years now. People love it so much that it has become a world-famous part of American pop culture with a video game version, and even a documentary about it.
Nowadays, the digital version of the New York Times crossword puzzle is available, together with other games and puzzles, through a separate subscription.
Of course, it’s hard to beat this kind of success but providing additional value with your subscriptions can go a long way.
Regardless of the type of publication, your readers will always enjoy some type of entertainment, and adding it to the bundle and making it extra fun could be the reason why they choose you over someone else.
Moreover, enjoyable recreational activities that stimulate the mind can be habit forming and are something people look forward to in subscription emails.
8. Survey Your Audience
All the tips in this article, so far, are universal and following them will enable you to increase your subscription rates. However, keep in mind that people are different, and depending on the profile of your audience, the industry you operate in, and the scope of your coverage, results will vary.
The best way to know what will encourage your audience to pay for the content they read on your website is to simply ask.
Conducting market research will give you valuable insight into your reader’s content consumption preferences and will help you better understand what they want in a digital newspaper subscription.
By improving your services accordingly and giving them exactly what they need, you will be in a better position to ask for financial compensation for your efforts.
You can find more details on how to perform market research in our article on the topic:
As revenue from advertising declines, building a loyal audience and convincing more people that a paywall is worth their money is growingly increasingly important for digital publishers.
The good news is that more than half of digital readers are willing, or can be persuaded, to start paying for content.
By leveraging different strategies you can improve your offers and up your subscription game. Give your followers what they need and show them that quality journalism has a price and it’s worth paying!