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Understanding the three types of news subscribers and how to attract them

December 12, 2017 | By Rande Price, Research Director—DCN @Randeloo

The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, LA Times, and others continue to report increases in subscriptions. Undoubtedly, this is a trend that media organizations of all types would like to get in on. It is helpful, then, to understand who these subscribers are as well as why are they willing to pay for their news. A new study, The 3 types of news subscribers: Why they pay and how to convert them, from The American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs identifies the emotional and behavioral factors that affect consumers’ news subscription decisions. The research methodology included the use of in-depth interviews to uncover the values and motivations key to subscription habits.

Three types of subscribers (and how to attract them):

1. Civically Committed: those individuals supporting goals and initiatives that reflect their personal values. The Civically Committed subscribe to a higher-than-average number of subscriptions.

  • High willingness to pay for news content.
  • Views their support of journalism as a moral duty.
  • Subscription decisions are more emotional than practical.
  • Subscribes to a higher-than-average number of publications.
  • Prioritizes organizations whose goals and values align with their own.
  • High loyalty; likely to pay for subscriptions even if they aren’t using them.
  • Low price sensitivity.
Key descriptors
  • Likely a news organization member, or donor.
  • Subscribes and donates to multiple news sources.
  • Likely donates to other causes and/or volunteers.
Strategies to attract
  • Publicize the news brand’s mission, values and community role. Ensure the brand’s mission and agenda is public. The Civically Committed support news organization aligned with their thinking.
  • Partner with civic-minded organizations and brands. Affiliate with causes the Civically Committed are already involved in and become part of their community.
  • Create events where they can meet journalists and get to know one another.
  • Reward them with appreciation. The Civically Committed see their subscription as an extension of themselves. Remember to thank them and be personal.
  • Allow them to donate to a news publication by adding a philanthropic relationship to their subscription. The Civically Committed want to support journalism.

2. Thrifty Transactors: consumers who pay for no-nonsense value and are highly selective in their subscriptions.

  • Moderate willingness to pay for news content.
  • News subscriptions are a combination of utility and relevance.
  • Price sensitive; needs to have high value.
  • Loyal to a small, highly curated number of publications.
  • Specific reasons for subscription such as part of a daily ritual.
Key descriptors
  • Subscribers usually have at least one publication related to hobby or special interest.
  • Fans of coupon clipping.
  • May rely on a news publication for its coverage of one topic (look for digital users with high engagement in one area).
Strategies to attract
  • Provide excellence and ensure content stands out as high value and unique. Thrifty Transactors look to dedicated sources for items that really matter to them. Find these subject areas and serve the Thrifty Transactors.
  • Consider offering subscriptions by verticals or specialty areas. Thrifty Transactors only want to pay for the content they use so make sure they know the details of the publication’s reporting areas.
  • Think of magazine marketing partnerships to promote subscriptions of like content.

3. Elusive Engagers: generally do not like subscriptions. They see news and information as a commodity that should be free.

  • Low willingness to pay for news content.
  • Utility drives subscriptions.
  • Sees news and information as a commodity.
  • Not comfortable with transaction and commitment of subscription.
  • Low loyalty.
Key descriptors
  • Likes free trials.
  • Prefers digital.
  • Likely to find content through search.
Strategies to attract:
  • Offer one-time-payment options with no commitment and include easy cancelation policy. It’s important to avoid monthly payment reminders.
  • Monetize Elusive Engagers outside of subscriptions. Market other products such as books, souvenirs, e-commerce, third-party paid promotions, etc.

The subscriber segments identified in this research are based on behavior, attitudes and beliefs, not demographics. This means an individual’s group will not likely change as they get older. However, further analysis of the segment groups by print and digital usage and demographics are also valuable in establishing marketing and monetization plans. Importantly, pinpoint the key differentiators of the news brand by segments to use in acquisition and renewal strategies.

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