Submitted by: Ulbe Jelluma 26/10/2017
In a world of declining ad revenues, particularly online, savvy publishers such as The New York Times are looking to build stronger subscription bases – and reap the rewards of a more direct consumer relationship.
“Everything we do in one way or another is to increase engagement,” said Michael Golden, vice chairman of The New York Times Company and president of WAN-IFRA. He was speaking at October’s IFRA Publishing Expo and DCX in Berlin and told the conference: “Our strategy is to make journalism worth paying for. We measure our success by the number of people who pay us to be subscribers in print and in digital.” The NYT’s one million print subscribers have full access to the publisher’s digital offering, with a further 2 million digital-only subscribers plus other spin-offs such as a crossword product, which has more than 200,000 subscribers.
“One of the big changes that we have made in the last two to three years is that we are very focused on audience-first," he said. "Advertising is critically important to our business, but we do not believe it is the future of our business. We believe it's much less dependable, much less available to newspapers and news organisations and that audience-first and audience revenue is the key to it.” He said that in 2009 the newspaper industry was predicated on how efficiently aggregated an audience was for advertisers, but by then it was “clear to us” that high quality news would not survive with an advertising first business model, either in print – or in digital.
And while the publisher is “aggressively building” its digital product, it still believes in the power of print. "Readers have stayed with print because it is a different experience, an experience they value," Golden said. "I believe that we have a significant number of years ahead of us in print – I am not going to put a number on it because then everyone will focus on the number.”
Also speaking at the conference Iris Chyi of the University of Texas highlighted just how commercially important print remains. “Ironically, the (supposedly dying) print edition outperforms the (supposedly promising) digital products by almost every standard,” she suggested, citing metrics including advertising revenue, subscription revenue, readership and engagement. Taking the NYT as a case in point she said digital subscription revenue was around $83m, whereas for print that figure stands at $167m. She quotes 2017 figures from communications expert Dr Neil Thurman that shows time spent on UK national newspapers’ online sites is less than 30 seconds a day, but 40 minutes a day in print. Little wonder that many such publishers are refocusing on loyal (print) readers.
Focusing on subscribers serves advertisers better
A report of the Times’ 2020 Group released in January goes further, highlighting that by focusing on subscribers it also serves its advertisers better. The focus on subscribers stems from both the weakness in the markets for print advertising and traditional forms of digital-display advertising, it said. “But by focusing on subscribers, The Times will also maintain a stronger advertising business than many other publications. Advertisers crave engagement: readers who linger on content and who return repeatedly.”
It seems that a mix of news analysis, features and cultural commentary delivered weekly or fortnightly is a welcome counterweight to the always-on nature of digital media.
Moreover, subscriptions give a publisher a guaranteed regular income and the opportunity to reengage more directly with the end user – the reader, and the ability to connect with them in the digital space through value-added extras such as rolling news, crosswords, videos and more. They also garner more data from those individuals which in turn leads to a better, more informed offering for their advertisers. As the New York Times can attest, a strong subscriptions strategy offers a win-win-win for publisher, advertiser and consumer alike.