Digital Publishing Reader Revenue Top Stories
4 mins read

How publishers are growing subscriptions with newsletters: Insights from WAN-IFRA

“One-size-fits-all products don’t spark much desire any longer” in the new world of journalism, suggests WAN-IFRA’s new report, Understanding your audiences in a deeper way. The report, based on the Table Stakes Europe program, shares case studies of several regional publishers who are using newsletters to reach and grow specific audience segments.

A reporter who writes for everyone is very often walking in the dark, producing content that ends up as a compromise.

Understanding your audiences in a deeper way, WAN-IFRA

“We trusted our gut feeling”

German publisher General-Anzeiger launched a weekly newsletter called Bonn Appetit aimed at foodies; more than 600 people signed up even before the first issue was published in late May. The publisher aimed to get 2,000 subscribers by the end of the year and was well on its way to reaching its goal with 1,500 subscribers by October (latest available figures). The newsletter also has a high open-rate of over 60%.

The decision to launch a food-related newsletter was driven by editorial instinct which was backed by data, according to Sylvia Binner, Head of Editorial Development for General-Anzeiger. “At first, we trusted our gut feeling,” she says. “Then we analyzed the data. We saw that – depending on the method used [Personas and Google Interest categories] – we have between 560,000 and 750,000 foodies in the region. That’s when the decision was made.”

Bonn Appetit features an opening editorial and a mix of staff-generated content. Local content, such as area restaurant openings and closings, and recipes from Bonn chefs are popular with readers, says Binner. The publisher is also planning to include user-generated content as readers regularly send snapshots of recipes featured in the newsletter that they have tried. 

The newsletter is produced and managed by a 10-member team who also have other jobs in the organization. Apart from the project owner and manager, the team includes a data analyst, audience engagement manager, and people responsible for advertising and marketing. The publisher plans to build upon the success of Bonn Appetit with a podcast, video show, and live events like wine tastings and cooking classes.

Cooking school, wine tastings, kitchen parties with local chefs, food truck festivals – we have no shortage of ideas. But we’re also thinking that we need partners for some things so we don’t overextend ourselves. As they say, we can only grow organically.  

Sylvia Binner, Head of Editorial Development for General-Anzeiger

“We reach new people”

Similarly, Spanish publisher Diario de Navarra which focuses on the family segment and launched a dedicated newsletter in 2019, organizes live events like the Expo Family Fair, round tables, book presentations, and so on. The publisher has recently narrowed its audience focus from families in general to parents who have children enrolled in compulsory education, which equates to around 9,000 households in their market area. The newsletter had 2,165 subscribers in autumn.

Diario de Navarra also has a newsletter that caters specifically to professionals. The publisher defines the segment as people who hold middle and upper management positions, as well as self-employed workers like lawyers and doctors. This group makes up 18,000 people in Navarra. The newsletter had 3,600 subscribers in late 2021, having increased its unique readers by over 24% in recent months.

Nordwest-Zeitung is another German publisher with a  family-focused newsletter called “Familienzeit” (Family Time) that has 3,000 subscribers and also drives digital subscriptions. The newsletter which focuses on service, excursions, and cooking tips was developed after surveying readers on what they would like to see in the product. 

The newsletter team “draws up proposals for family-oriented topics that are initially of a nationwide nature, and rework them with a view to local aspect,” says Christian Schwarz, Online Editor, Nordwest-Zeitung. 

For example, there was considerable interest in the topic of swimming lessons during the pandemic. The team spoke to the German Lifesaving Association as well as investigated where swimming lessons were being offered locally. The information gathered helped them produce a package that could be used for the newspaper as well as online.

What we have seen is that, by targeted use of our jointly developed articles, also via push news, Facebook pages or other channels, we reach new people. 

Max Holscher, Member of the Chief Editorial Team, Nordwest-Zeitung

“That is already working really well,” adds Holscher. “Our article on tips for excursions published directly after the lockdown produced measurable numbers of subscriptions.”

“Our future business model”

The publisher set itself goal of attracting 1200 subscriptions annually with family-oriented topics. The Familienzeit newsletter was launched in June last year and by late 2021 they already had 900 subscriptions with family-oriented topics. 

Holscher adds that growth requires “constant advertising. If we organize competitions or quizzes, then we quickly attract new subscribers. Without marketing, progress is a lot slower.”

Stephanie von Unruh, CEO, Nordwest-Zeitung is optimistic about the future of local journalism, or non-national news media. 

“We are currently setting up three new editorial offices in the neighboring region of East Friesland in order to significantly digitally extend our area of distribution. That pre-supposes investments and naturally involves risks.

“But we are focussing here clearly on our future business model, and that involves relevant, well-researched local and regional topics and stories.” 

I believe firmly in the economic viability of digital local journalism.

Stephanie von Unruh, CEO, Nordwest-Zeitung

The full report is available for download here:
Understanding your audiences in a deeper way