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How Publishers are Building Subscriber Loyalty and Retention

The battle for pageviews appears to be officially over. In a post-scale era of digital media, loyalty and user retention – namely focused on subscriptions – are the new primary objectives for publishers.

In fact, after interviewing 133 publishing executives, Digiday found that for publishers, an average of 54 percent of revenue comes from retained subscriptions.

Publishers are focusing on subscriber and retention rates because finding new users can be more expensive than retaining loyal subscribers. “Acquiring a new customer is anywhere from five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one,” says Harvard Business Review writer Amy Gallo.

Here’s what publishers are doing to retain their loyal subscribers and build retention rate.

Publishers are Creating Content that Converts Subscribers
The Seattle Times’ is a prime example of a subscription-focused approach. The newsroom has been identifying which stories lead to the most subscriber conversions, and adjusting editorial strategies accordingly. Editors have found local politics and sports content yield highest conversion rates.

Subscriptions are one way to deliver revenue. Learn 3 other relatively new strategies publishers are using to deliver profit while keeping their sites user-friendly and welcoming.

As of last spring, the site’s editors worked with consumer marketing to find which types of content increased subscriber conversion rates. Tests entailed homepage promotion and increasing post frequency.

“While pageview retains some importance for the ad side, the newsroom is more focused on tying the activity to the outcome,” says Sharon Chan, VP of innovation, product and development at the Seattle Times.

The New York Times is also pursuing initiatives to yield more subscribers. The Times recently created an internal dashboard for editors to track which articles lead to the most digital subscription conversions.

Reporters are encouraged to use this data to strategically cover stories that drive conversion rates. This dashboard is one of The Times’ many strategies to grow digital subscriptions, which have increased by 55 percent in 2017 to over 33,000 subscribers.

Publishers are Offering Exclusive Benefits to Subscribers
Not only is The New York Times growing subscriber audiences, but they are maintaining relationships by providing perks to paying users. This includes access to subscriber-only VIP events, one of which included a talk with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and other pop-up discussion events at venues such as the Newseum and the International Spy Museum.

Giving subscribers special treatment creates a special and more personal relationship that retains users and increases loyalty. “We want more and more people to feel like they’ve entered a whole new world once they’ve become a subscriber,” says Clay Fisher, SVP of consumer revenue.

The Atlantic is yet another publisher that is introducing a membership program to maintain a revenue stream from loyal subscribers.

Last September, the magazine launched “The Masthead” to subscribers at an introductory price of $100 a year. Benefits include a digital subscription to the magazine, a daily newsletter with exclusive content, weekly conference calls with senior Atlantic editorial staff, and discounted tickets to Atlantic events.

By offering such benefits, publishers establish goodwill with subscribers, translating to long-term profit.

Publishers are Improving Subscriber User Experience
“We recognize that design and user experience are going to be the things that really differentiate Slate for both our readers and the ad marketplace,” he said. “If we want people to come back again and again, we have to have as polished and distinctive a design as we possibly can.”

Publishers are recognizing that content delivery is equally important as the content itself. To enhance user experience, Slate eliminated pagination for subscribers, a practice that required the reader to click through ads multiple times to get through an article, Stern said.

The Washington Post is working on enhanced user experience features which are exclusive to subscribers. One is a new article format, called News Reader, that cleans the article page and features infinite scroll, electronic bookmarks and fewer ads.

Rather than valuing scale and reach above all, publishers are recognizing and delivering on the promise that they can generate stronger revenue from their most loyal and retained users.

Content Personalization

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