Digital subscriptions are bringing a sliver of light to local news publishers under US pressure. According to a Northwestern University report this year, 2,500 local newspapers have closed since 2004, creating hundreds of “news deserts.”
Subscription specialist Mather Economics predicts that by 2023 there will be more digital subscribers to US titles than paper subscribers.
“Given the share of the subscriber base, we will exceed that next year,” said Mather senior managing director Peter Doucette, adding that they mostly include local publishers in the calculation.
“Digital subscriptions are clearly the biggest growth driver.”
Digital subscriber numbers are a closely guarded trade secret for some publishers, but Press Gazette’s research uncovered a number of independent local titles with significant digital subscriber numbers.
Not surprisingly, the Los Angeles Times and Boston Globe top the list with over 500,000 and 244,000 digital subscribers respectively, but lesser-known names (at least globally) are also doing well. The Star Tribune of Minneapolis told Press in her Gazette that it now counts over 100,000 digital subscribers. Meanwhile, Long Island local Newsday has already surpassed 50,000 digital subscribers, even though it’s only been fully operational since 2019. His three-year subscriber count surpassed 81,000 earlier this year.
Larger chains, which tend not to share figures for individual titles, report digital subscriber growth across the company. In an email, it said it had 1.75 million digital-only paying subscribers in Q1 2022, up 44% quarter-over-quarter. By the end of 2021, Lee, his fifth largest publisher in South Korea, has 450,000 digital subscribers.
But while subscriber numbers are encouraging, Doucette said revenue growth remains sluggish. According to him, the print vs. digital subscription revenue share ranges from 85% in favor of print to 15% in his favor.
“We have a large and growing revenue stream, but it is clearly not large enough for news organizations to sustain on their own at this time,” he says.
The biggest successes have been titles in metropolitan areas such as Boston, Seattle, and Los Angeles, and while it’s no surprise that publishers can tap into larger pools of potential paying subscribers, the Even publishers have come a long way, Doucette said.
Earlier this year, the Press Gazette reported on a number of successful local news startups. Among them is the Shawnee Mission Post, a subscriber-funded news site in Johnson County, Kansas. About two-thirds of its revenue comes from its 6,000 digital subscribers.
What are the keys to a successful business that readers support with local news?
It may seem obvious, but getting things right like SEO and page speed is important, but so is content, says Doucette.
“The most important thing is to provide quality news. Secondly, you have to have a certain degree of exclusivity, where you are the only one covering issues such as events or sports teams. There is no magic formula.”
Matt Broad, vice president of strategic services at revenue analytics firm Piano.io, says local news may have a smaller overall audience, but fewer providers are an advantage. .
“If [a customer] If they hit a wall on a domestic site, they may go elsewhere and have few articles to read. But for local news, if he only has one or two media outlets with that information, those media outlets have to promote and promote it. We’re seeing more local publishers offering more locally relevant content to build relationships with their users and drive them to do so. ”
Broad said Piano.io, which has many local customers such as the Baltimore Banner, The Colorado Sun, and The Salt Lake Tribune, wanted to see how technology could help them better understand their audiences and user journeys. We are signing with more and more local publishers.
In Doucette’s view, while centralized resources are scarce, independent businesses are also an advantage.
“They usually have better content, which is probably the most important thing. The trade-off is that they tend to be less sophisticated in terms of technology and marketing prowess. At least they’re playing the long game, building capabilities and investing in the newsroom, which presents a strategic opportunity.”
There is no one way to be successful with local digital subscriptions, but developing a strategy and defining what the business will look like in the future is one of the more successful names in the space. Doucette’s key piece of advice, given by The Boston Globe. .
“The Boston Globe has a long-term investment in newsrooms and a commitment to digital subscriptions that puts them in a much better position,” says Doucette, who previously spent more than 10 years at the Globe. “They built their capabilities and skills, chose strategies and paths very early on, and worked very hard on them.”
Over the past decade, the title’s publisher, Boston Globe Media, has operated two websites. Boston.com is a free, ad-supported site, and BostonGlobe.com, a subscriber-only premium site, supports the company’s primary mission of increasing reader revenue.
“what [the two sites] It was to avoid falling into the “I want more subscriptions, but I’m worried about pageviews and ad revenue” trap that a lot of publishers do…they took that path early on, a lot of We didn’t get sidetracked by a lot of what publishers call noise. ”
“It all starts with what you are trying to solve and what your vision is.
This focus, Doucet says, has allowed Globe to generate enough digital subscription revenue to more than double the funding of the newsroom. A “rule of thumb” for sustainable businessAdditional advertising revenue pushes Globe’s profit margins to the top.
Though several years behind the Globe change, the Philadelphia Inquirer, where Doucet joined Maher this summer, said he was “in the same boat.” The nonprofit, The Inquirer, currently has 70,000 digital subscribers, and a company spokesperson told his Press Gazette: [its] This year’s goal”.
“In many ways, the same principles apply to Globe, even without having two websites,” says Doucette.
But both the Inquirer and the Globe are of little use in what can be considered news deserts and poor communities. As Mission Post co-founder Jay Senter told the Press Gazette, part of the publisher’s success is that the communities it serves are one of the wealthier parts of the country. can be explained by the fact that Many publishers have to charge enough to run a sustainable business that their readers support. Big discounts can increase subscriber numbers, but of course revenue is what matters in the end.
It’s also been difficult for some publishers to retain the large numbers of subscribers that have flocked to local (and national) news sites during the pandemic.
Joana Santiago Vazquez, director of audience growth and digital strategy at GFR Media, which owns Puerto Rico’s Nuevo Dia, told Press Gazette that the title, which currently counts 22,000 subscribers, is difficult to maintain. rice field. As a result, she says, Nuevo Dia is looking not only at new technology, but also partnerships with local businesses, such as insurance companies, that can bundle her subscriptions to digital titles into offers for customers.
Doucette remains bullish, but says he has a sustainable business model that can be seen in the local news. He believes that keeping newsrooms and sales local while outsourcing parts of the business elsewhere, such as technology, finance and human resources, could be one way forward.
“By reaching the end of a digital-only business, local publishers can build sustainable businesses,” he says. “Local publishers need to be as aggressive with digital as possible. Digital growth, they need to prioritize that investment. As I often say, put the print on autopilot. , means putting as few resources into it as possible.All mindshare, thought and energy has to do with digital growth.We need the cash to fund the transformation so keep the print Little by little they will buy the tool and say it doesn’t work because I would argue that they are not fully committed to growth.