Catching Readers: The hardest part with digital subscriptions is keeping them.

Author:DeRienzo, Matt
 
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What leads people to pay for a digital subscription to a newspaper? A ton of thought and energy and data analysis have gone into that question in recent years amid the big shift from chasing ad-supported page views to reader revenue. What kinds of stories spur conversion? What marketing tactics are most effective? What kind of pricing?

The next question, equally, or perhaps more, important, is what keeps them subscribing?

It's important as a separate conversation because the answers can be very different. Heavy discounting can bring subscribers in the door. More consistent pricing from the beginning can mean far lower cancellation rates. Once-every-six-months blockbuster investigative stories can bring a lot of new subscribers in the door. More consistent and comprehensive coverage of routine local stories could be more important in making subscribers feel like their ongoing subscription is worth it.

The whole industry took notice over the summer when the Los Angeles Times reported adding 52,000 new digital subscriptions in the first half of 2019 but netting an increase of only 13,000 due to churn.

Veteran circulation directors will point to a reduction in churn percentage being just as valuable as growth in new subscribers, and potentially a lot less expensive to accomplish.

Data. News organizations have done a lot of work analyzing what types of stories ultimately get a reader to sign up for a digital subscription, and even a new subscriber's reading history leading up to that decision.

But the types of stories that are read by logged-in subscribers could be more instructive when it comes to retention. What's the diet of a satisfied subscriber? What are the habits of subscribers who cancel?

I've argued before that news organizations should be developing a robust customer-relations management database for subscribers in the way they do for advertising clients. What do you know about them beyond their credit card number and address? How often have they heard from you? Are they even opening your emails?

Engagement. At a basic level, if a subscriber is consistently engaging with your content, they're less likely to cancel. Newsletters and other engagement by email has been a focus in trying to convert readers to subscribers. Building a more premium newsletter product specifically designed to engage people after they subscribe could be a key to retention efforts.

Giving readers "inside" information about the workings of the newsroom and...

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