Credit: Photo by Andre Taissin on Unsplash

A survey of 200 news publishers indicated that most were anticipating subscription growth between 10 and 20 per cent this year.

However, that research, led by Brian Morrissey's The Rebooting and customer data platform BlueConic, also revealed their biggest concern is reducing cancellations (churn).

In an online event organised by The Rebooting and BlueConic, we heard about subscription strategies from Bloomberg Media and Puck for the year ahead.

Wake up the sleepers, prioritise the keepers

Bloomberg Media is of course a legacy name, known best for providing information to financial terminals and global markets.

It has a secondary model though, where in 2018 it launched a digital subscription, providing a subset of its content for general audiences.

It has quickly scaled and surpassed 500k subscribers in that time, helped by cheap introductory deals of £1.99 and the 'coronabump' of subscribers. As the subscriber base grows, however, discounts can be a slippery slope to devaluing the overall subscription proposition.

These days, the paywall is tight and offers little content away for free. The data shows that the majority of people who hit the paywall multiple times eventually sign up, and so that is the strategy Bloomberg Media will be sticking to, says Julia Beizer, chief digital officer of Bloomberg Media.

That can be an "infuriating" and "unfriendly" experience for users, she admits, so they are working on making that process smoother, such as signing in through social accounts.

Exclusive content, no surprise, is a big draw. Once through the door, readers are shown the breadth of content on offer. Subscribers who are interested in four different verticals - such as politics, markets, technology, crypto or AI - in the first month of subscription are more likely to remain subscribed.

Newsletters are instrumental in bridging and building those early habits by connecting new subscribers with valuable content. In other words, prioritise valuable users, let go of those who do not want to stay and make it simple to leave.

Last-ditch "saving offers" to prevent subscribers from leaving are a tactic of the past. So too are hanging onto inactive, dormant subscribers - known as "sleepers" - who are not seen as valuable towards the core metric of average revenue per user (ARPU).

Competing with the big players: position yourself as premium

It is a good idea to send alerts when annual subscriptions are up for renewal. This is practised by Puck, a relative newcomer in the media industry that raised $7m in series A funding, a further $10m in series B funding and launched in 2021.

It was founded by a handful of well-known journalists, covering the four power centres of the US: Wall Street, Washington, Silicon Valley and Hollywood. Modelled on the Substack newsletter, it has continued to recruit "category experts with incredible sources" with around 240k free and paid subscribers.

One of the co-founders was Max Tcheyan, who said that Puck had a strict paywall from the beginning.

Its day one challenge was to fight with huge legacy brands for attention. It has sought to resist the types of massive discounts leveraged by larger media companies because it felt this would be a losing battle and instead wanted to condition people to think of its content as premium.

Sometimes, discounts up to 25 per cent can be offered when bringing in a new author who is likely to migrate across a big, loyal subscriber base. Similarly, an odd free article may appear for grabs for around 30 days, especially for new verticals, as the publication expands into fashion and sport.

This is a good way to test the water before launching a new product behind a paywall and as the brand expands its roster of writers, we may see more of these strategies soon.

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