While there are numerous success stories around the world with digital subscriptions, in many ways the industry is still grappling with myriad of challenges. Shared best-practice is in demand, which is why WAN-IFRA just published a new report, “Reader Revenue Review of 2022”, that features 10 case studies of publishers from all over the world.

In WAN-IFRA’s upcoming World Press Trends Outlook report, 84% of news executives responding to a global survey rated reader revenue as important for investment and planning in 2023. And investments in product development and data are equally rated as crucial, most likely linked to reader revenue.

The cases in the report address the array of issues related to reader revenue strategies: growth, retention, data, target audiences, new products, and more. And they come from publishers all at different stages of their reader revenue journeys, and very different regions: Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. They share what they’ve tried, what’s worked, what hasn’t, what they’re planning to try next and more.

The 10 case studies featured:

Canada’s Globe and Mail: Quality journalism, data power growth

The Guardian: Listening to readers and members paying off

South China Morning Post: Audience-specific journeys

Times of India: Doubling down on data analysis

Le Monde: How to reach 1 million subscriptions by 2025

Switzerland’s NZZ: Experimental culture provides reader profiles

The Sunday Times: Strategy to win new audiences

South Africa’s News24: Subscribers boost podcast success

Norway’s Aftenposten: A focus on features and habits for retention

The New York Times: How beyond-news products drive subs

WAN-IFRA Members can download the report here for free.

Here are a few takeaways from the report:

Invest in quality journalism: For 2023, The Globe and Mail in Canada is projecting that 62 percent of its revenues will come from paying subscribers, universities, businesses buying bulk subscriptions, and retail sales of newspapers. Much of the publisher’s digital subscription strategy is driven by its in-house developed Sophi system. But it all starts with the journalism, says CEO Phillip Crawley.

“We believe in investing in quality journalism. We added journalists and resources to our newsroom even during the COVID-19 pandemic that wiped out whole categories of advertising revenue, some of which have not yet come back. So, while others cut back on print, we decided it was a good time to invest. It does make a difference. Readers notice. As do advertisers.”

Get your readers registered: “There is a lot of data which suggests that if you have readers who have created registered accounts with you, they are more likely to actually go on to become subscribers,” said Adrian Lee, Senior Vice President of Audience Growth at South China Morning Post, adding that it is something they continue to examine as it evolves “because we have seen that registered users are more likely to subscribe and to subscribe to longer term plans.”

Another publisher who would agree with that assessment is Switzerland’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), which noticed some interesting consumer behaviour as their reader subscriptions developed.

“We found this really fascinating insight where, of all the people who register and then eventually subscribe, 60 percent of them did so in their first week, and actually a majority of that 60 percent did so in their first day,” said Nashua Gallagher, Head of Customer Journey Management at NZZ.

Non-news products: Beyond the audience, it’s essential for publishers to keep experimenting with new products and services that they can build out as either separate products or ones that might be bundled together with their news products.

This is something The New York Times is working on, despite, or perhaps more accurately, because of the huge amount of digital subscription success they have had during the past several years.

“Each of these products fulfils a very specific user need that allows us to see at the core what could be a good subscription product,” he added.

Reader revenue can be a catalyst for change: The Guardian now has more than 1 million supporters, including 419,000 digital supporters, as part of the title’s reader contribution model strategy.

There are 585,000 people who are members or recurring contributors, and 475,000 people who have made a one-off donation in the past 12 months. A further 114,000 people subscribe to The Guardian’s print products.

“The reader revenue strategy has been utterly, utterly transformative for us from top to bottom at The Guardian,” said Richard Furness, Managing Director of Consumer Revenues & Publishing for Guardian News & Media.

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