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Publishers explore subscription models focused on inclusivity

June 14, 2022 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

Reader revenue models raise concerns about subscriptions serving only wealthy and highly educated audiences. According to a Reuters Institute’s survey, almost half of news leaders (47%) are concerned that subscription models may “super-serve” more affluent and more educated audiences

A recent article by Laura Oliver identifies news publishers in Sweden, Spain, and South Africa that are creating inclusive offerings to ensure trusted news sources aren’t just available to those who can pay for them. Oliver offers examples of how publishers are paying it forward to readers who may not otherwise be able to afford a subscription. This allows them to access the news at a reduced cost (or even for free), while building good will and paving the way for a long term subscriber relationship.

Daily Maverick in South Africa provides a “pay what you can” model, while Spain’s elDiario.es allows members to pay nothing. Portugal’s Publico offers digital subscriptions to the unemployed, and Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter uses a flex paywall to attract younger and more geographically diverse audiences. Importantly, these publishers are focused on inclusivity and are setting the stage for others to follow.

South Africa’s Daily Maverick’s sliding scale

South Africa’s Daily Maverick offers a sliding scale payment for subscriptions. Readers decide how much to contribute, with prices ranging from just under $5 to just under $23 a month. There is also an annual subscription option from just under $50 to just under $230. Subscribers paying more than approximately $12 a month received the same amount in an Uber voucher as a perk.

The sliding scale attracted 24,500 Maverick Insiders, with a slight majority paying more than $12 a month. Additional benefits include ad-free browsing and invites to speak with journalists. Unfortunately, Daily Maverick Retention is somewhat problematic given credit card expirations and no auto-renewal process. Even with these obstacles, there are 17,100 active members. The Daily Maverick is looking into direct debit cards for less friction in the renewal process.

Sweeden’s Dagens Nyheter targets younger audiences

Dagens Nyheter introduced digital subscriptions in 2015 and expanded its offerings a year later. They employ a metered model, a premium model, and a dynamic model where most articles are free immediately after publication but then move behind the paywall. Approximately 60,000 people signed up for the free offer, and close to 30% converted into paying subscribers in the following year.  

They used this strategy again during the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in 300,000 free registrations, with 25% converting into paying subscribers later. Dagens Nyheter subscribers started with approximately 2,000 digital-only subscribers. Now it has about 250,000 and reader revenues account for 78% of their total revenue.

elDiario.es reduced-fee options

Spanish news site elDiario.es believes developing an emotional relationship with audiences will grow its membership. Their offer allows members to pay from $8.50 to $80 or more a month for a subscription. They also offer a free or reduced-fee option for those who cannot pay. The site uses a metered paywall technology to help encourage loyal audiences to become supporters.

Nearly 21,700 members signed up for elDiario.esunder the free option. The site has almost 61,000 paying members, including 3,600 paying a reduced fee. In the elDiario.es revenue model, 50% of revenue comes from readers and 50% from advertising.

Pricing options allow readers with financial limitations to identify how best they can support newsrooms. Publishers willing to experiment with different pricing offers such as “paying what you can” show readers they are more human and less transactional. These efforts help them form a loyal and lasting relationship with audiences, regardless of their financial circumstances.  

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