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Tribune Publishing sees a 293% increase in digital subscriptions during the pandemic: How they achieved it and what’s next

Tribune Publishing signed up 334,000 digital-only subscribers in 2019. This was a 34% increase compared to the previous year. Subscription revenue grew about 60% during the same period, according to its CMO Mark Campbell. 

More recently, due to the pandemic, the publisher witnessed a 293% increase in new digital subscriptions in March this year, compared to February. Campbell credited it to their paywall strategy. This despite the publisher making critical coronavirus coverage free. 

Campbell revealed strategies the publisher was employing during the pandemic on Digiday+ Talk series with Max Willens. 

109% increase in conversion rate

What worked according to Campbell was that the paywall is set such that a reader consuming free coronavirus pieces would still be using up their free article limit. So once that limit is reached for a reader s/he would counter the paywall when trying to access non-coronavirus content. However, they can still read the free stories.

Source: Digiday

This is a strategy Tribune has used before, in times of public emergencies. For example, during the hurricane season in Florida.    

The publisher saw a 54% increase in unique visitors across its brands between February and March. At the same time, the number of users who hit the paywall increased by 21%. Nearly 0.8% of these are converting, said Campbell. That represents a 109% increase in conversion rate.

Source: Digiday

Apart from this, the company made other changes in it’s subscription strategy as a response to the pandemic. These include:

  1. Suspending nearly all discounts offered to first-time subscribers in the second quarter. This can potentially realize an extra million dollars, according to Campbell. 
  2. It’s testing a two-article paywall limit that resets in 45 days, instead of a 3-5 article limit that resets in 30 days.
  3. Increase subscription prices. The idea being that dedicated readers would likely bear the higher cost.

“Use this time to experiment”

The publisher is also experimenting with ways to nurture subscribers by providing additional value in order to curb post-pandemic churn. These include: 

  1. Using data to understand this segment of users better.
  2. Demonstrating breadth of content via non-coronavirus content recommendations.
  3. Offering additional benefits, like access to reporters.
Source: Digiday

The current crisis is also an opportunity for experimentation. “It is giving us license to experiment with different meter settings, in ways that we might have been scared to do before,”’ said Campbell. “That learning will inform the go-forward strategy, so when the ad-market returns and we see the CPMs rise, I think we’ll have better data around the trade-off between a tighter meter and lots of pageviews.”

“That’s one thing I recommend to every marketer, every publisher out there – use this time to experiment.” 

The full conversation with Campbell’s presentation is available here: How Tribune Publishing is growing subscription revenue