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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

How integrating analytical and editorial teams drives subscriptions

March 4, 2019 | By Rachel Williams, Product Marketing Manager—Outbrain @outbrain

Publishers are reclaiming their voice when it comes to how and when they are reaching their most important readers. As the market continues to feel pressure from ever-changing trends of the duopoly, publishers are putting more effort into direct relationships with their audiences and leveraging actionable intelligence from data. This means much more than ad targeting today. Data allows publishers to better serve their readers and, as a result, better profit from true engagement.

A study by the American Press Institute surveyed over 4,000 consumers of news and found that 78% respondents value getting reliable, accurate facts. An audience survey conducted by The New York Times, found that 73% polled believe “that it has never been more important to support quality journalism.” As consumers are willing to pay for quality journalism, publishers are looking to leverage these trends to deliver their best content and form meaningful reader relationships that will sustain the media business.

Although the vast majority of readers don’t subscribe, those that do are the that do are the most impactful. They spend longer on site and drive greater revenue. Of course, it is important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all for subscriptions. Solutions will be different for every publisher and publishers must adapt to audience behaviors quickly, as they change often.

Flexible paths to subscription

For example, some audiences respond well to metered paywalls. Among digital subscribers, it was found in the same study by the American Press Institute that 47% of respondents became a subscriber after they reached a limit on free access. Other audiences engage after enjoying a newsletter. Deciding on what content to show and when to show it is something that needs to be finessed in order to satisfy audiences (and hopefully entice them to subscribe).

Yet, even as subscriptions become a focal point, advertising revenue still accounts for the majority of publisher revenue, despite per-ad revenue declining. At the same time, readers are getting savvy about how they choose to consume content, bouncing quickly from pages when they are blanketed with disruptive ads. Publishers that deliver a clean website experience are more likely to build long-term relationships with readers.

Engagement is key. But getting there is not easy. One route is personalization. In fact, publishers who successfully drive subscriptions share a common theme in understanding the importance of integrating both analytical and editorial teams to provide deeper reader personalization in this digital era. This can mean content personalization, but it can also take the form of personalizing subscription offers based upon customer behavior and preference.

Data driven success

Hearst Newspapers has integrated various initiatives where their growth is fueled by data. The publisher’s goal was to evolve its digital properties into a portfolio of diversified subscription and ad-supported sites. Through the use of AI, Hearst analyzed over two years of subscriber data and can now identify what users are going to convert and where, as well as analyze pre- and post-subscription patterns.

Editorial teams at The New York Times use content analytics platforms to understand readership in real-time. They also centralize the data for actionable intelligence that helps them better serve their audience. (We’ve seen customers who take this kind of approach increase conversions up to 200%.)

Data enhances the reader experience and makes valuable connection for publishers by allowing editors adjust content strategies based on where audiences come from and how they convert.

By being data informed, publishers can better understand reader engagement as well as how that readership consumes their content and what helps convert them from casual readers to seriously committed, and even to become subscribers.

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