New Digital Content Initiatives Are Key for Subscription Publishers

Subscription publishers WSJ try ad-free digital; Huffington Post tries story format; NYT shares subscription lessons

A lot can be learned by trying new initiatives, especially when they are undertaken with some foresight. We’re watching as subscription publishers report on their initiatives, and attempt new ones.

We begin today with The New York Times, which is sharing information on its digital subscription numbers. The Media Briefing has the story. “The NYT increased its overall digital subscription revenue by 17 percent year on year, to over $232,000 for the twelve month period. Most of that was driven by an increase in subscriptions for its digital news products (itself up 16 percent to over $228,000) but the report also breaks out the amount the media company makes from subscriptions to its crosswords product. It states:”

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“For the full year of 2016, the Company added 583,000 net digital-only subscriptions and circulation revenue from digital-only subscriptions increased 17.0 percent to $232.8 million.”

The article continues by sharing more on the growth of digital subscription numbers. “Consequently, at a time in which even venerable old brands like The Times are feeling the squeeze in print, it has managed to grow its proportion of digital-only subscribers to 44 percent.”

Now we move to a publisher who is also hoping to increase revenue by handling its content differently. This news story from Digiday discusses WSJ’s exploration of ad-free digital offerings.

“The Wall Street Journal is exploring new ways to drum up revenue from readers, including an ad-free version of its digital platforms, the possibility of charging on a per-article basis and even charging extra for home delivery, according to an online survey it is sending out to readers.”

“Like all publishers with advertising as part of their model, the Journal is looking to get more money from readers as it grapples with declining ad revenue. The Journal is a publishing outlier in that it gets more money from readers than advertising; circulation revenue surpassed advertising revenue in the last fiscal year.”

The article continues by talking about some of the specific initiatives. “In the case of the ad-free version for digital platforms (smartphone and tablet apps and website), the Journal said in the survey that it was under exploration but didn’t say if or how much more it would cost. In the case of the per-article charge, the Journal said it was considering 79 cents an article. It also said it was considering charging for delivery of the print edition, but didn’t elaborate on what the cost would be. The Journal said it also was looking into a dedicated crosswords and puzzles app.”

Finally, we’re seeing a new content experiment from Huffington Post, which is taking a page from Snapchat with a new ‘storybook’ format. Digiday has the story.

“Made for HuffPost’s mobile site (but also available for desktop visitors), the format features ten vertical images and motion graphics that users can swipe or click through. As hinted at in the format’s name, it mimics the vertical content popularized by Snapchat and later Instagram.”

“A team of seven staffers — Ingram, an editor, three developers and two designers — spent two weeks creating the storybook product, which is now available to everyone in HuffPost’s newsroom through the publisher’s in-house widget-builder platform. Once created, the platform provides an embed code to publish the storybooks inside articles, though HuffPost will also experiment with publishing the format as standalone pieces on its mobile sites and apps.”

We’re excited to see subscription increases and content diversity come to some major publishers.


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