This pitch gets the best results to boost online news subscriptions

Chris Pash
By Chris Pash | 13 July 2023
Credit: via Unsplash

Researchers have worked out the ideal combination of messaging to get readers to pay for news.

Media groups have been racing to replace sliding newspaper advertising with digital subscriptions and advertising.

A study, led by Dr Neil Thurman at City, University of London, and published in the International Journal of Communication, reveals a sales pitch mentioning both the financial pressures faced by news media and how subscribers can support independent journalism, significantly enhances a reader’s willingness to pay.

The researchers tested 16 different versions of an online subscription pitch with 815 consumers.

“In a highly competitive environment that is increasingly digital, newspapers need to move away from traditional ways of funding their high quality, independent journalism,” says Dr Thurman.

“A key source of funding will be online subscribers. However, in a cost of living crisis people may not see an online newspaper subscription as strictly necessary, or decide that cheaper alternatives are available.

“This study provides new insights that could help newspapers to boost online subscription revenue, and shows just how important it is to make readers aware of the value of paid-for content.”

In Australia, the major media groups have reported success in switching to digital revenue, both subscription and advertising.

At Nine Entertainment’s publishing division, subscription and licensing revenue was listed at $89 million for the half year to December, up 5% on the same six months the year before. Total publishing revenue was almost $300 million.

The exact numbers aren’t known for individual titles.

However, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and the Australian Financial Review reported "mid-single digit" percentage growth in digital subscriptions over the 202.

Total subscribers held firm at 450,000 while registered users grew to more than 1.1 million.

“While print subscription and retail sale revenue slipped slightly across the half, this was more than offset by digital subscription and licensing revenue growth,” the company said.

At News Corp, digital subscribers in Australia were 924,000 for news mastheads at the end of 2022 compared to 861,000 in the prior year.

In the UK, The Times and Sunday Times digital subscribers, including the Times Literary Supplement, were 489,000, compared to 399,000 in the prior year.

In the US, the Wall Street Journal, an early adopter to digital subscriptions, is a stand out.

In the December quarter, digital-only subscriptions to The Wall Street Journal grew 9% to more than 3.1 million average subscriptions in the quarter, and represented 84% of total Wall Street Journal subscriptions.

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