It’s not news to you that we are living in uncertain times, and it’s not exclusive to a region, like a natural disaster or a terrorist attack. It is being felt globally by everyone. You, your organization, your employees, your partners, and your customers are all living through a new normal that affects our health, relationships, and livelihood. With that weight on our minds, we’ve been talking with our publishing partners about how we can support our own businesses and those of our customers at the same time. We’ve come up with some ways to increase memberships, while also supporting members.
New and current members are going through an extremely stressful time. Asking people to shell out money for a recurring subscription while millions of jobs have recently been cut, isn’t the place to start. On March 22, the president of the St. Louis branch of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, predicted an unemployment rate of 30% in the second quarter of this year. Over 10 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits in March, according to the Washington Post. Additionally, it’s estimated that the U.S. will be seeing the effects of COVID-19 for a year or longer, and many businesses may not reopen for months. It’s certainly the largest work-from-home experiment ever conducted, which may change business as well.
The bright side for business is that many publishers are positioned to thrive in an uncertain climate like this, especially news organizations like The New York Times, Bloomberg, and The Wall Street Journal, who have all been lifting paywalls on coronavirus coverage. The New York Times said they’re hoping the public service will convince more readers to eventually become paying customers.
It’s working, too. Digiday reports, “Publishers are seeing a spike in subscriptions over the last four weeks in the U.S. and Europe, fueled by readers’ appetite to stay as informed as possible during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.” Lucinda Southern at Digiday says, “In the U.S. digital subscriptions rose 63% in the past week compared with the same period the year before, according to subscription technology platform Piano, which works with 300 clients globally including magazine publishers, newspapers and digital news publishers.” In Europe, that number was 267%. However, it’s not just news publishers in a unique position to thrive (or at least stay afloat and keep everyone employed) during a pandemic.
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How Niche Publishers Are Finding Ways to Increase Memberships
If you’re not a news organization, there are still ways you can serve your customers and your business during this crisis. The niche publishers we work with offer memberships that offer all-access passes to their current and archived content, which varies from crafting to investing. They are varied in their approaches, but all are taking this time to find ways to increase memberships while serving their current members.
1. Email Capture Architecture
Several of the publishers we’ve chatted with have tested a new freebie related to the current pandemic and the coming recovery with great results. I think the brilliant twist here, which gives this concept legs, centers on giving your readership free advice to get them through the pandemic, as well as focusing on the hope associated with strategies for prospering after the pandemic in the aftermath that could last 12 to 24 months as the world recovers.
2. Flexing your Paywall
Like the publishers above, several of our publishers are planning a selective drop of their paywall to highlight content that is either relevant to surviving the pandemic, or simply an entertaining and enlightening way to pass the time while they are working from home or furloughed. One publisher plans to refocus their library previews so that each preview will now link to premium content available to non-buyers. This strategy enables the publisher to selectively open up the paywall for seven days, creating a rolling reading list that is free, while still maintaining an incentive to become a paid member for unlimited access.
3. Focusing on Beginner Content
With so many people working from home and furloughed, many of our websites have seen traffic increases of 40%, 50% or more. From gardening and crafting to armchair travel and archaeology, consider testing freebies that provide beginners with an easy entry into your content. This concept can be extended into your library previews and promotional spotlight emails with the goal of converting non-buyers into buyers.
4. Timely Offers
Whether it’s 30 days for a dollar, 30 days for free, or two years for the price of one, consider testing introductory offers that require little or no commitment from the prospective new members who may be feeling a financial crunch.
5. Get Relevant
All of our clients and partners are focusing on how their daily newsletters, premium previews, and marketing spotlights can be reworked and repositioned to be thoughtfully aware of the current conditions their readers are living through.
Lastly, a quick update on our status. As you may know, we are a 25-person virtual organization where everyone on our team works from home every day all year long. With the exception of postponing some face-to-face meeting time that occurs periodically, our business practices are running normally, including our daily team standup and weekly one-on-one reviews. We are endeavoring to be flexible and helpful with our partners and clients who are finding themselves working from home.
We’re happy to be in the fortunate position of telling our partners that their websites and companion marketing programs will all continue to function as normal, while we all live through these uncertain and challenging times.
What are you doing to support existing members and attract new ones during this time? Have you found new ways to increase memberships?