This case study is part of our forthcoming Awards Report, which will be published by the end of this year.

“We did it because a business model based solely on advertising was exhausted and it was necessary to move to a model where subscription revenue had greater weight,” said Gonzalo Abascal, Editorial Secretary, Clarín.

Clarín won the “Best Digital Subscription Initiative” for “moving from a metered to a smart paywall” at WAN-IFRA’s Digital Media Awards Worldwide.  

As of July 2023, the company has more than 650,000 paid subscriptions.

Their new goal is to reach 1 million subscribers by 2025, and expand the teams dedicated to the production of premium content. 

As part of this plan, they are working to get into other markets. For instance, the United States, which has a huge Spanish speaking population.

“The impetus behind this project was to find a new sustainable business model, which gave value to quality journalism, and it was made possible by a team of 25 people,” Abascal said.

Currently, about 30 million people visit Clarín’s website each month.

“We all know they are sporadic readers, and they don’t pay anything to read one note, two pieces or three pieces, but we have the opportunity to convert them, to turn them loyal and then to subscribe,” said Emilio Basavilbaso, Chief Operating Officer.

Diverse portfolio and organisational alignment

The leading Spanish-language publisher ranks 15th in the global journalistic market. It offers three subscription packages – annual digital subscription, monthly digital subscription and a full digital monthly digital deal.

After reaching this milestone, the company doubled down on its efforts of building diverse offerings for their gamut of readers and potential subscribers, while facing the continuing challenge of growing total unique users.

This involved moving away from a traditional functional structure towards a key initiative-based approach, with a focus on the company’s organisational capabilities. 

See also: With 700,000 paying subscribers, digital more profitable than print for Argentina’s Clarín

To accomplish this, a digital management team was formed to oversee the site’s technical performance, innovation, product improvement and user experience.

The newsroom’s organisation chart was then reformulated to meet the new objectives.

The process started by dividing the editorial vertical of the newsroom into four sections, each of which fell under the leadership of a central desk chief. 

Three of these four sections track the consumption of information by registered users and subscribers, number of subscribers who read the content, and time spent as the key performance indicators.

The fourth section works exclusively under the requirements of the mass audience.

Javier Kraviez, Chief Digital Officer, notes: “The intention is not to overlook those readers who are not subscribers and who may never become subscribers, but for whom Clarín’s brand must continue to be a reference.”

Each of the four sections has its own objectives for subscription and page views.

This period also saw the development of the production of special content for subscribers. The average reading time of each piece of this content was more than 4 minutes, exceeding the time of the regularly published content. 

These efforts were coordinated by Clarín’s 10-person Special Productions team, which comprises journalists, illustrators, video and audio editors, graphic designers and web designers.

It takes at least three weeks to bring each production to completion.

Clarín’s most consumed and highest subscriber converting content – produced by the brand’s most popular journalists – was put behind the paywall. 

Resultantly, for the first time in the brand’s history, Clarín’s digital revenue crossed its advertising revenue. 

“In the next 4-5 years, the digital unit will be 80 percent of our revenue,” said Basavilbaso, the Chief Operating Officer. 

“The participation and cooperation of Clarín’s different departments have been vital factors in the success of this subscription model. We always understood that this was a work of co-creation and co-execution,” he said. 

Behind-the-scenes and a redesigned app

The first step in the implementation of the smart paywall involved conducting a thorough diagnosis of Clarín’s subscribers’ consumption patterns and habits.

The team surveyed its potential digital subscriber base, segmenting them into well-defined clusters to understand the depth of their relationship with the brand and product.

They also analysed how these different segments were spending time on the Clarín website.

The team parallelly worked on improving the UX, in collaboration with the international firm GlobalLogic, to exhaustively understand the various points of interaction between the product and the readers, to “offer a user experience that would ensure potential digital users’ satisfaction.”

“A complete diagnosis of the internal work process was also carried out to identify bottlenecks, and idle and insufficient capital,” noted Abascal, Clarín’s Editorial Secretary.

As part of the subscription strategy, they also launched a new mobile application. 

Divide and conquer subscription strategy

The digital management team used a metered paywall to execute the following actions:

Article reading limits based on content and reading preferences. 
Generate user clusters, according to their interests and reading frequency.
Create corporate subscription offers through agreements with associations, clubs, unions and universities.
Produce five exclusive newsletters for subscribers with premium content. They currently produce 24 newsletters.
Create different offers during sales.
Develop its own technological tool for subscription and reader service.

Q&A with Javier Kraviez, Chief Digital Officer, Clárin:

1) What has been your biggest takeaway or learning from this product/initiative, etc.?

The key thing for a media of mass consumption in this new reality is to understand that not all audiences are willing to pay for content, so it is important to identify and create clusters, and know their preferences. 
Once that is done, it is essential to provide your paying users with content they consider relevant and see worth in.

“We’re making business decisions based on data and evidence. Decisions that have to do with how we achieve better engagement between readers and content producers, without jeopardising the accuracy and value of the informative hierarchy, are two immutable values of Clarín’s journalistic activity,” he said.

Additionally, Spain’s El País highlighted Clarín as one of the four global media outlets with a successful subscription model. The others are The New York Times, the Financial Times and Le Monde. 

In retrospect, Abascal said the team should have launched premium content for subscribers right from the beginning. “We should have restricted access to columns by the company’s main journalists. They are the most consumed and generate the highest conversion rate,” he said.

2) How has this evolved or developed since the time of submitting your awards entry? Can you share any results?

In the three months since the entry submission, Clarín’s subscription base has grown by 8 percent. 

3) What has the award itself meant to your team, whether that be internally or externally?

Receiving this recognition not only serves as a validation of our vision and our convictions, but also motivates us to continue striving for even greater challenges. Achieving these results is not the merit of a single person, but rather of a cross-functional organisation.

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