Digital Publishing Reader Revenue Top Stories
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Maintaining subscriber acquisition and retention momentum post-Covid: Insights from WaPo and Arc XP

Covid and other world events drove subscriptions to unprecedented heights in the last two years. Many publishers launched and expanded their online subscription models. This has also created “customer acquisition and retention challenges for publishers across the board,” according to a new report by Arc XP and Digiday.

“Over the past 18 months there has been a significant uptick in digital subscription spending, driven by both changing consumer behaviors and relentless news cycles,” says Ryan Gladstone, Group Product Manager, Arc XP.

As these trend lines start showing signs of flattening, it is critical that publishers optimize subscriber acquisition strategies while also managing existing subscriber churn in order to continue momentum.

Ryan Gladstone, Group Product Manager, Arc XP

The report, “The publisher’s guide to digital subscriber acquisition and retention,” features tactics that will help publishers navigate customer acquisition and retention challenges within the subscription space. 

“Cultivating engaged subscribers”

Publishers should look into reducing friction at various points of the reader’s journey from registration to content access to subscription. They “need to make sure they have a completely seamless account creation and log-in experience,” says Gladstone. “Consider all the different places where a reader may encounter a publisher’s content – their site or mobile app, Apple News, Twitter, etc. Each touchpoint carries its own login and password. 

“Publishers can reduce the friction of these individualized logins with one-time access links and social sign-ons available with each social platform where their content is available. These features can go a long way in cultivating engaged subscribers.”

He recommends using buyer personas and journey mapping to identify the pain points different user types might experience along the path of acquiring a subscription.

Those who are in the early stages of their digital subscription strategies need not invest in fancy tools and jump into complex paywall strategies and modeling. “Propensity studies, for instance, can be done without personal AI machines,” says Beth Diaz, VP, Audience Development and Analytics, The Washington Post.

The greatest indicator of someone’s propensity to subscribe is their consumption of our content. If someone tries to read eight articles and hits the paywall three times, then they’re likely thinking they really need to read our content.

Beth Diaz, VP, Audience Development and Analytics, The Washington Post

“Diversify subscribers’ content engagement”

Content is what makes readers subscribe and stay. It is “vital to define the content that converts customers and the content that retains them,” according to the report.  Gladstone recommends using metrics to understand the type of content that is resonating with anonymous and registered users and subscribers. This will help them surface the best performing content in their acquisition strategies.

“Retention revolves around the individual feeling like they are getting more value out of their subscription than what they are paying,” the authors note. They suggest publishers develop strategies to help subscribers recognize, utilize, and appreciate the full range of content available through their subscription. 

“Subscribers who are aware early on they aren’t getting a perceived value that’s worth more than the price of the subscription will cancel quickly, typically within the first 90 days,” explains Gladstone. “This means that publishers need to not only diversify subscribers’ content engagement but work to make consumption a frequent habit, if not part of the subscriber’s daily life.”

Diaz adds they have found via research that diversity of content consumed is among the biggest predictors of churn. 

“If they’re thinking of their Washington Post subscription as being good for politics content or pandemic coverage, once that news cycle passes or crisis fades, they may think, why keep the subscription?”

Beth Diaz, VP, Audience Development and Analytics, The Washington Post

“Diversifying content engagement has been a big focus area for us,” she adds. The Post asks readers about their interests right after they have subscribed and recommends newsletters accordingly. 

Moving on, creating audience segments will provide valuable insights into how the different segments interact with the content. Publishers “can get a lot of value with segmentation before fully diving into personalization,” adds Gladstone. 

Segmentation is the first step toward full personalization and is an effective way to deliver the right content at the right time.

Arc XP’s digital subscriber acquisition and retention report

He recommends publishers use email to “test and iterate quickly without impacting editorial workflows.” They can send personalized messages to readers based on the content and services they have used. They can also personalize content for subscribers based on their consumption history.

“Investing in great content is critical”

Finally, content is the key to successful acquisition and retention. “Investing in great content is critical,” says Gladstone. “There’s so much choice for consumers today that it’s increasingly important for publishers to have original content that has a voice and stands out.”

The Post focuses on high-quality journalism and reducing friction points for readers and subscribers. Additionally, one of its core retention strategies is “broadening exposure to our content and making sure people recognize there’s a diverse bundle of content available to them and not just one article.” 

It’s about making sure the subscription experience is fulfilling and easy for people to discover things that are of interest to them,” 

Beth Diaz, VP, Audience Development and Analytics, The Washington Post

The full report can be downloaded from Arc XP:
The publisher’s guide to digital subscriber acquisition and retention