This article is authored by Madeleine White. It was first published by The Audiencers on May 5, 2023.

Gen Z are interested in news, but you have to present it in the places where they are” – LADbible Group on engaging young audiences.
Subscriptions have continued to rise, but the focus now needs to be on retention – The retention strategies that Die Zeit has implemented to keep trial subscribers.
Responding to the needs of an audience in search of quality, local content – how The Mill has gained 4,350 newsletter subscribers across their three brands.

“Subscribers who receive at least one of the subscriber-only newsletters in the portfolio retain better than those with free newsletters.” – The three types of newsletters at The New York Times and how they’re using premium newsletters to increase retention.

“Gen Z are interested in news, but you have to present it in the places where they are.” – LADbible Group on engaging young audiences.

“There’s this argument that young people don’t like news. Well, they do. They perhaps just don’t like the way you’re serving it to them. Or they don’t share the same traditional opinion that you have of what news actually is… Just because it’s not what you would find on the front page of a traditional broadsheet publisher, for example, doesn’t mean it isn’t news. You have to go to where your audience is.” said Simon Binns, Managing Editor at LADbible Group.

To support other publishers looking to acquire and engage young audiences, Binns shared tips based on LADbible’s success:

Employ young people: social natives will see the trends first, they live in social rather than just working there. “I’ve got a 16-year-old daughter, and an 11-year-old son. I learn more about how young people consume content on a daily basis just by watching them than I do with any study that’s dropped into my inbox in the last 10 years”.

Focus on community and the people around the story. “We continue to listen to the audience. We care about the same things they care about. We reflect their own experiences back at them. And we get to be part of a big conversation rather than just telling them what to think. We’re part of their daily routine: hopefully a good one.”

Be where your audience are, who are likely spending most of their time online on social media, notably TikTok.

Tobias Henning, General Manager, TikTok Germany & Central Eastern Europe, seconded this, sharing five best practices for publishers to get started on this social platform:

Involve TikTok natives – hire people who are on the platform every day for entertainment. They’re the real experts.
Form collaborations between creators and journalists to learn from their expertise and benefit from their audience.
Don’t recycle material from other platforms! Binns shared that they’re now the number one publisher on TikTok, achieving this by adapting what they do to each platform. E.g. They wouldn’t just republish the same videos they use for Facebook or Instagram for TikTok. It’s a different audience, so the story has to reflect this, almost like having four newspapers for four audiences.
Thanks to TikTok’s algorithm, it’s about content, not followers – it will push your content without you having a single follower.
Be authentic! Personality-driven content is key.

Subscriptions have continued to rise, but the focus now needs to be on retention. What Die Zeit are doing to retain trial subscribers.

Like many publishers, despite seeing a steep increase in digital subscriptions since the pandemic, the German publisher, Die Zeit, has been facing the challenge of converting free trial users to paying subscribers and retaining them long-term.

So, what is Die Zeit doing to overcome this challenge? A culture of experimentation: constantly A/B testing new designs, copy and user journeys. For example, they’ve worked on optimizing their footer bar promoting subscriptions, increasing trial conversion rates by 23%.

As well as testing the balance between a highly visible paywall and allowing readers to engage in the content before being blocked. This is particularly important on mobiles due to the smaller screen. For instance, they tested placing the paywall after seven lines of text vs 3, leading to a 5% increase in trial conversions.

Research has proven that app usage significantly increases engagement and retention, so they’ve put a lot of energy into encouraging trial subscribers to download the app, particularly during the onboarding journey.

“Our ZEIT ONLINE app is a strong driver for engagement and retention. That’s why we’re not only trying to convert more subscribers to the app, but we also completely redesigned the app. We anchored a subscriber section in our new app to give new subscribers a better point of orientation. This new area features all subscriber-only articles, games and sections.” said Christian Roepke, CDO at Zeit Verlagsgruppe. Data also revealed a significant drop in engagement after the first day of subscription.

“To find the reasons for this engagement drop after the first day, we started an intensive user research phase and discovered a key problem in our onboarding. Most subscribers are highly motivated to explore their subscription within the first day. However, the high number of articles and options then overwhelm them, causing frustration.” added Roepke.

Die Zeit’s objective is “to make better use of the high engagement on the first subscription day and to provide better guidance for new subscribers. This is intended to prevent engagement from dropping after the first subscription day and encourage subscribers to retain their subscription even after the trial phase ends.”

The first subscription day project is the solution. They set up personalized first-day experiences, sending confirmation & onboarding emails and a “5 tips to get started with subscription” page in the footer bar on the first article a subscriber accesses.

Responding to the needs of an audience in search of quality, local content. How The Mill has gained 4,350 newsletter subscribers across their three brands.

The Mill delivers high-quality journalism and valuable local information via email, “for people who want to read local news without endless pop-up ads or misleading ‘clickbait’ headlines”. Founder Joshi Herrmann discussed his motivations for launching three newsletter publications and the importance of community for local journalism.

The challenge: readers have rapidly lost access to quality local media as regional broadsheet titles are closed and remaining newsrooms have been gutted

The idea: quality local journalism via subscription-funded newsletters that focus on great writing and in-depth reporting

The big focus is differentiation – everything they publish has to be something you couldn’t get elsewhere. They keep volumes low so that they can keep standards very high.

The user journey and monetization model is simple but effective, with a focus on quality news:

Users sign up for the free email list via organic search or by clicking through ads on social media.
5% of these readers convert to paid subscriptions within three months, 7% in total.
The remaining audience is monetized through ads that are kept to a minimum, but slots can be sold at a high price thanks to a very targeted readership.
Paying subscribers get four newsletters a week, whilst free readers get 2.

And it’s been a success so far…

The Mill in Manchester is now profitable with 2,100 paying subscribers paying £70 a year and a team of three full-time staff + part-time and freelance writers.
The three newsletters in three cities across the UK have 4,350 paid subscribers.

The three types of newsletters at The New York Times, and what defines a subscriber-only newsletter?

There are 3 buckets of emails at The NYT:

Free briefing newsletters -> introduce readers to The Times and help form habits

KPI = habituation across the bundle

“The Morning” is the biggest in this bucket, sent every morning to introduce readers to various content available.

Automated or semi-automated emails -> to bring users back .

KPI = Weekly Active Users on site

For super fans of columns, specific writers and features. It’s also a massive list of emailable people who can be contacted to bring them back to the site and hook them into a regular newsletter.

Subscriber-only newsletters -> to increase retention rates

KPI = subscriber retention

Differentiate a subset of newsletters to drive subscriber value and positively impact revenue.

What defines a subscriber-only newsletter? 

 The newsletter must go beyond the curation of journalism and add new value accessible mostly in the inbox, with onsite as secondary.
Each newsletter should help a reader focus on a specific niche or connect to a strong editorial voice.
Community is key. Newsletter writers should aim to foster conversations with their readers.

The portfolio has been shaped into a few genres that provide different values to different types of subscribers:

Reporting and expertise: Helping readers go deep in areas such as tech, political polling and elections, world events, and the climate crisis

Advice and guidance: Pointing readers to their next favourite song, a book to read, or a show to watch. Offer expert advice, wellness, restaurant recommendations, and answer readers’ ethical questions.

Opinion voices: Writers from the Opinion section cover niche topics such as the role of language in politics; the economy; faith in today’s society; parenting; the future of the planet, and more.

“Subscribers who receive at least one of the newsletters in the portfolio retain better than those with free newsletters,” commented Paige Collins, Senior Product Manager at The New York Times.

What lessons could be applied at a much smaller scale? 

Trust between product and editorial – business insights blended with editorial instinct works.
Learn from small tests and evolve the approach – be willing to decide something wasn’t worth it.
Keep the reader’s needs at the centre – what role will this journalism play in their lives?

Find the WAN-IFRA Digital Media Europe 2023 programme and photos on Digital Media Europe 2023’s website. If you attended the event, you can download the presentation slides with the code sent to you via email.


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