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Subscription strategies to convert light readers

October 12, 2021 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN @Randeloo

The pandemic was a key driver of new subscriptions from news and gaming sites to entertainment streaming services. As a result, publishers registered record subscription growth. For digital media businesses, once 100% reliant on advertising revenue, the question now is how to sustain this growth over time.

Publishers naturally encourage heavy readers to convert to paying subscribers. These readers offer a high lifetime value and are an excellent market for new products, upgrades, and cross-sells. However, heavy users were not the only segment showing an increase in subscriptions during the pandemic. Casual readers also increased their subscriptions sign-ups. 

Greg Piechota highlights strategies to convert and retain light readers after the pandemic in the International News Media Alliance (INMA) new report, Light Readers: Digital Subscriptions’ Next Growth Path. Publishers should think differently about light readers and develop a value proposition and marketing mix that fits this target audience.

Open a door for casual readers

Publishers grew their subscriber base last year. High-interest news events such as Black Lives Matter and the U.S. presidential elections, in addition to the pandemic, signaled light readers to learn more. As a result, casual news consumers were part of the wave of increased traffic to news sites.

Recognizing the historical events of 2020, many publishers responded with looser paywalls during Covid. They recognized the value of trading content for reader registrations. Once readers registered, it allowed publishers to track and understand their content preferences. It opened a valuable communication channel to push content to causal readers via e-mail, paid ads, etc. β€” hopefully leading to new subscriptions.

The standard acquisition funnel may not be the right path for casual readers; they may need more passes in the first stages of the relationship to trigger registration, engagement, and subscription.  

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Developing a new habit

Onboarding new subscribers need to be centered around developing a new habit of regularly visiting publisher’s content. Piechota cites research from University College (UCL) that suggests “people are most likely to adopt new habits after 66 days of repetition.” In other words, publishers have approximately two months to engage light readers daily to become a regular habit.

Developing a new behavior is a critical step in creating a long-term subscriptions relationship with light readers. Further, trial lengths should include sufficient time to adopt this new habit-forming behavior.

Learn about the light reader

Publishers must focus on engaging light readers in both content and site design. Segment personalization in many content management systems (CMS) can offer different homepages to different reader segments. A homepage design for casual readers can include explanation sections, added news analyses, and 24-hour recaps.

Light readers, by definition, are more limited in what they read on sites than heavy users. Heavy readers often look at everything. Therefore, it’s more challenging to figure out what is truly interesting to them. Given the disparity between these two cohorts, it may be beneficial to focus on the overlap of their content interests. Finding this intersection can serve light users well while maximizing the reach of content.

Further, increasing engagement of light readers can be more critical than maximizing heavy-reader engagement. Piechota points out increasing heavy readers from 50 visits per month to 60 may not affect their engagement. However, moving a light reader from two visits a month to 10 is likely to affect their engagement significantly.  

News publishers see casual readers as a valuable audience. A renewed focus on this cohort, understanding their behavior and knowing their unique characteristics offer an opportunity for growth and a gateway to engagement.

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