The current worldwide pandemic has changed our lives in ways that we’ll see and feel possibly into the next decade. Ordering take-out from your favorite restaurant and getting groceries delivered—not just from local stores but also local farms—has never been more accessible. Many businesses quickly adapted to survive, as have schools that were formerly stuck in archaic ways. Teachers have said over and over again, that there was always a plan for virtual learning options, particularly for snow days, but that the infrastructure just couldn’t get into place on such a large scale. Well, we indeed rushed that one along into progress, didn’t we?
Magazines and other subscription-based publishers practicing membership marketing have made adjustments, too. According to a recent analysis from What’s New in Publishing, global ad revenue in 2020 is expected to drop by at least 7.4%, and in the U.S., it’s expected to decline by 13%. This is forcing publishers to focus more on generating revenue directly from readers.
Three Current Trends in Membership Marketing Amidst the Pandemic
1. All-Access Upgrades: When the shutdowns first kicked off, our publishing partners who generate the majority of if not all of their revenue from readers, saw a 79% increase in subscription sales. How? These publishers know that the key to membership marketing is having an upgrade to an all-access offer where members can access new and archived issues of all their products.
We think more and more publishers will be going this route, but to succeed, they’ll need to build web libraries that are responsive and searchable, not shovel members a handful of PDFs to flip through. People may or may not be washing their mail and leaving freshly delivered magazines outside for days or more, but they are consuming digital media online every day, more than ever.
In fact, Deloitte’s Digital Media trends survey says that “U.S. consumers had an average of 12 paid media and entertainment subscriptions pre-COVID-19.” Looking at just millennials, that number is 17. But since the pandemic began, 8% of people have increased their number of news subscriptions, and 7% have increased their number of magazine subscriptions. We expect that number will continue to rise as the economy gets better and as more publishers get better at creating and selling all-access membership products.
2. Reinstated Paywalls: One of the noblest things news organizations did during the pandemic, was to offer COVID information for free. Dropping the paywall around premium content may have been well-intended, but it’s a bad idea in terms of training consumers that content is free. In fact, this could be labeled the original sin of website publishers—something the industry is working diligently to change.
While some organizations saw an initial boost in subscriptions after lifting paywalls, others have returned to their paid models. In April, after lifting paywalls on COVID content, Star-Telegram’s executive editor Steve Coffman wrote to readers, “We will continue to make stories critical to your health and safety available to everyone. But some of our coronavirus work will begin to migrate behind the meter, or paywall. Some examples are longer-form accountability and feature reporting, as well as tangential stories about the effects of the coronavirus on our economy.” He added, “This is a matter of survival for the Star-Telegram and other local newspapers.”
We expect the next logical step in membership marketing this year will be to find more ways to target those who came for free, subscribed to email newsletters, and converted into paid members.
3. Willingness to Subscribe: Combining the two trends above, the willingness of subscribers to pay for news content that is being pioneered by large organizations like The New York Times and CNBC Pro will absolutely trickle down to special interest publishers selling premium memberships. These premium memberships could be on topics about anything from investing, gardening, cooking, and crochet, like what we’re seeing with our publishing partners.
Your goal as a publisher should be to keep those members long after COVID. If you’re one of the few already excelling at increasing subscriptions and memberships during this pandemic, keeping those subscribers beyond the days of quarantine is high priority. Services like Netflix and Spotify already primed consumers to subscribe to products for $10+ per month without batting an eye, so publishers are primed and ready to accept the challenge as long as they have a robust membership product to offer.
What membership marketing trends do you see in play this year, and in your own organization?