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The Economist grows reader revenues by 50%. Price hike imminent as subscribers say it’s “not expensive enough”

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It’s been a busy time at The Economist.

Almost every week there are some sort of experiments going on,” said Sunnie Huang, Newsletter Editor at The Economist.

Every week we learn something new about our audience.

Sunnie Huang, The Economist

Relentless experimentation

The publisher has launched essay contests to engage younger readers, released a graphic novel on Instagram, used sports coverage to grow its audience, explored how video can drive subscriptions, and treated newsletters as puzzle pieces to reduce subscriber churn.

Sketches from a newsletter prototyping session at The Economist (Source)

It also got serious about audio and delved into podcasting, A/B tested its paywall, published an AI-written essay, began using customer data to boost acquisition and engagement, and just a couple of weeks ago, rolled out a totally redesigned website.

“Digital golden age?”

This strategy of constant experimentation with subscriber focus has yielded rich dividends. The Economist grew its reader revenues by 50% while doubling its gross margin in the past five years.

In a keynote presentation at IFRA Expo/DCX Expo in Berlin, Marina Haydn, Executive VP and MD, Circulation, described how The Economist has been engaging readers to drive business growth, steadily building readership, and increasing global circulation.

Reader-first approach

The three central pillars of the reader-first strategy are:

  • Focus on the customer
  • Perfecting product development
  • Pricing, pricing, pricing

Only if we deliver the value that customers want, can we charge a premium.

Marina Haydn, The Economist

“Traffic is growing”

“We have refocused our social strategy this year,” Haydn said. The publisher is using social media heavily as a key part of the marketing strategy and to bring its journalism to life.

The Economist’s social traffic has risen 70% in six months, and it is now at the highest level in two years. It has a combined 45 million followers across its social media channels, with the largest number of followers on Twitter (more than 24 million) and the next largest on Facebook. It also has the fifth-largest LinkedIn community in the world.

Haydn also said that more than 1 million customers receive newsletters from The Economist every day. The data they glean from the newsletters provides insight into the content preferences of their customers. 

Traffic is growing and newsletters are now a bigger source of traffic to than Twitter.

Marina Haydn, The Economist

“Not expensive enough”

“We focus deeply on the customer value exchange,” Haydn said in her keynote.

A relentless focus on providing value to customers has not just boosted reader revenue, they learned that their subscribers actually thought The Economist was charging them too little

While many others are struggling to retain subscribers, The Economist is increasing its price to bring it in line with the customer perceived value.

Our strategy is to leverage The Economist’s pricing power through infrequent but substantial price increases,” Marina said.