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Navigating nine consumer paths to digital subscriptions

November 4, 2019 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

People are motivated to subscribe to their news digitally for a variety of reasons. It’s a personal path that often takes time. Some people are driven by a topic of passion. Others subscribe to support journalism, yet others opt to subscribe because of a lifestyle change. In the Paths to Subscription Report, the Media Insight Project , an initiative of the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, identified nine distinct paths to subscriptions based on consumer motivations and conditions. This study surveyed 4,100 recent subscribers to 90 US local newspapers to understand their motives and mindsets at the time of the deciding to subscribe.

The nine paths to subscriptions:

1. Digital Paywall Converters

The majority of these subscriber groups (61%) buy a digital subscription because they hit a limit of free stories they can read online and wanted unlimited access. Demographically they tend to be younger, high-income, highly educated, male, and Democrats. This group is twice as likely to subscribe to large metro papers as other subscribers. Improving the user experience of the subscription sign-up page, especially a short frictionless experience,  may help to increase conversions in this segment.

2. Topic Hunters

This segment is highly interested in one or two particular subjects, which helps drive them to subscribe in order to access this content. Topic Hunters are often so engaged in content of interest that when they hit the meter limit, they immediately opt to subscribe. They tend to be highly educated. Publishers may see a lift in conversions by promoting and messaging specific topics of interests like politics and sports with a direct call to action. 

3. Locally Engaged

This group is interested in content about their community. They want to be locally informed. In fact, all Locally Engaged subscribers report accessing local news is important to their decision to subscribe. Similar to Topic Hunters, the Locally Engaged are interested in news alerts and email newsletters regarding local government, their neighborhood, and other local civic news.

4. Social Media-Mobile Discoverers

These subscribers engage with their newspaper and its journalists on social media and read the articles on mobile devices. Demographically this group is much younger than the others and tends to be slightly more female and more likely to identify as a Democrat. The Social Media-Mobile Discoverers are also likely to follow individual reporters on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Publishers can message these readers to like, follow, comment, and share articles to fully engage these subscribers.

5. Journalism Advocates

This group is motivated to subscribe because they want to support journalism. Nearly all Journalism Advocates report they value supporting news organizations and like that it keeps a check on political leaders. Demographically, this group is younger and more digital-focused than others and are also likely to identify as a Democrat. They are also more likely than other groups to live in urban areas and subscribe to large metro papers. Similar to the Digital Paywall Converters’ path to subscribing, this group values unlimited access to content.

6. Life Changers

This group decision to subscribe is due to a transition in their life. These subscribers may have just moved to the area, started a new job or encountered a change in their lifestyle allowing them more time or money to sign-up for a subscription. Importantly, publishers should target readers who are new to the geographic area, recent graduates, retirees, or someone with a new job or promotion.

7. Coupon Clippers

This group is driven to subscribe because they value coupons, “I subscribe to get coupons and ads…not the news” or “… coupons, but then I actually started reading it.” Publishers can engage this segment by promoting a newspaper’s coupon section. Digital coupons should also be tested for a positive user experience impact on  subscriber conversion and engagement.

8. Print Fans

This segment, while they prefer print, now access their news subscription digitally as well. Print Fans tend to be female (56% vs. 46% of other subscribers) and more than half live in the suburbs. Publishers can promote the print edition to this segment but also attract them digitally by providing exclusive content of interest online.

9. Friends and Family

This group subscribes as part of the social circle in their lives. Often friends or family introduced them to a new publication. Friends and Family look for high-quality and interesting articles in their subscription package. A great way for publishers to engage and attract this group is through referral programs, where subscribers can refer friends or family in order to receive a discount or a free gift.

The Media Insight Project offers insight consumer motivates to sign up for a subscription. While subscribers value quality journalism there are also many other important drivers of subscriptions. Some factors sit in the background and take time for a person to act on, while others immediately trigger subscriptions. Publishers need to understand the segments of potential subscribers in detailed to maximize on opportunities for conversion

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