Tim Rowell, General Manager of Piano, sat down with B&T to discuss the nuances of why subscriptions are currently thriving.
Why do you think subscriptions are going up?
More and more publishers are launching subscription programs as a way to grow revenue sustainably.
In the last five years or so, we’ve seen that neither subscriptions nor advertising alone will generate enough income to fund the important work media companies are doing.
While publishers remain focused on subscriptions as a core growth area, there’s also a strong desire to find the right balance between prioritising ads and subscriptions, to maximise overall revenues.
The next step in this transformation will be better measurement and understanding of the ad revenue driven by audiences, so publishers can more easily target the right users and content with the most appropriate monetisation strategy.
Why do you think the content has seen a consumer value surge?
Convincing readers to pay for content can be insurmountable when starting out with subscriptions. But it’s not that they don’t recognise the value. Publishers need to understand why consumers value their products and what matters most to them. Then, they can define an offering around those insights.
As a general rule, subscriptions tend to surge around major news events where consumers seek information, like during the pandemic, or a consequential political election cycle.
The important piece for publishers is continuing to engage with those new subscribers, effectively showcasing the benefits of their subscription, and creating a habit that will keep them around and paying after that event is no longer relevant.
What do you think is the future of news consumption?
What’s abundantly clear to us is that the days of being loyal to a single news brand are long gone. Instead of a daily paper delivered to their doorstep every day, consumers get their news from multiple sources, most often in the palm of their hand on a mobile device.
The publishers that recognise this fundamental shift will be able to refine their customer experience for desktop and mobile users, and ultimately cultivate the brand equity that leads to loyalty.
Subscribers aren’t necessarily going to stick around forever, but it’s human nature that people appreciate when you make their lives easier, even in small ways. Publishers who continue engaging their subscribers and improving their experience over time will most likely retain their business.
What trends do you see in the news that are surprising?
Something that always surprises publishers is the number of subscribers who continue to pay, yet haven’t visited the site in more than 30 days, which we call “sleepers.”
Sleepers comprise over 40 per cent of subscribers for the average subscription website.
The challenge for publishers is dealing with these users, but I think equating loyalty with the volume of consumption—assuming sleepers are disloyal—is probably the wrong way to think about it.
Although they’re not coming in every day to reach, they value the product, the brand, enough to pay for it. It’s a really interesting question, whether publishers should try to “wake up” these users with targeted engagement tactics, or continue to let them follow the same low consumption patterns.
What type of content resonates the most with audiences?
No one section or type of content will be a one-size-fits-all solution for every publication to engage its audiences.
We see that when publishers can auto-optimise their content recommendations to site visitors based on what they know about that user, they get 45 times better click-through rates.
At the end of the day, publishers need to work on truly understanding their specific audience and what they are interested in.
That granular level of analytics and insights will allow them to make smart decisions and create more of the content that drives outcomes—whether that’s simply engagement, a free registration, or ultimately the user converting to be a paid subscriber.