Insights from Global Digital Subscription Snapshot 2019

Dynamic paywall takes root, while Facebook loses credibility

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Global Digital Subscription Snapshot 2019 celebrates publishers who were able to adapt to the changing digital trends.
Global Digital Subscription Snapshot 2019 celebrates publishers who were able to adapt to the changing digital trends.

Published for the first time in 2018 by FIPP, the Global Digital Subscription Snapshot has released its digital subscriptions and revenue growth trends 2019 report. The report celebrates publishers who were successfully able to adapt to the changing trends in the industry and increased their revenue from digital subscriptions. This year’s report takes into account 13 million digital subscriptions as opposed to last year’s 10 million. With success stories of major publishers around the world and the trends in digital publishing, the report establishes that paid content has truly become a global phenomenon. The report is downloadable at https://www.fipp.com.

Restraining the availability of free content

Keeping up with growing digitization, major publishers have decided to move their focus to monetization of their product. Condé Nast has been gradually moving its titles behind paywall over the past four years. The company will be shifting all of its titles and content behind the company paywall, as announced in January 2019. Vogue’s editor, Anna Wintour, believes that print will remain a luxury product in itself but Condé Nast aims to expand revenue from the digital readership. That Condé Nast has been quick to adapt to change is evident from its weekly New Yorker magazine, which has 1,67,000 digital-only subscribers. It becomes one of the first major magazine publishers to use paywalls on all of its titles.
Following Condé Nast, New York Media has stationed a dynamic paywall for New York magazine, The Cut, Vulture and other titles inspired by The New York Times whose digital-only subscribers are growing rapidly. The NYT company gained 265,000 new digital-only subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2018. Of its total of more than 4.3 million subscriptions, 3.3 million are digital-only subscribers. NYT has set a target of reaching 10 million by 2025. Its digital revenue for 2018 was over US$ 700 million, and is expected to rise to US$ 800 million by the end of 2020.

German publisher Zeit is also becoming a sucess story, showing 123% growth in 2018 by adding more than 100,000 digital-only subscribers. Süddeutsche Zeitung boasts an increase of 42%, Der Spiegel is up 50%, and Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung has doubled its digital-only subscribers.

The phenomenon is not just limited to industry giants but spreading across periodical publishing. According to Reuters, more than half the publishers in the report identified subscriptions as their primary revenue focus for the next year.

Sports – A new business arena

The report highlights some major trends in the digital publishing industry. One of the most attractive domains for digital subscribers is sports. The Athletic bagged an investment of US$ 70 million and has over 100,000 subscribers. Focusing on local US sports and using local newspaper writers, the company has inspired its competitors with its business model. DK Pittsburgh Sports, The Capitol Sports and Hookem.com are other sports media platforms that have become successful with their exclusive in-depth coverage. Their achievement is driving others to monetize subscriptions by adopting similar strategies.
Aware of the trend, digital publishers are moving their content behind a paywall and limiting their free content. The Telegraph in the UK has installed a paywall on its rugby content and The Boston Globe has reduced the number of free articles to two.

Dynamic paywalls and local content – New winners

Dynamic paywalls are data-rich artificial intelligence systems that have the capacity to estimate the likeliness of a reader to become a paying subscriber, and actions required to make it possible. The technological approach allows the reader a specific number of articles depending on their behavior and user profile with the aim to convert them to paying subscribers. Swiss Newspaper, Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), has increased its profits using this model. These efforts have revealed that specialized and local content fare well in converting readers into subscribers as opposed to mass-produced content on social media.

Publishers lose faith in Facebook

In addition, publishers have lost confidence in Facebook as a marketing channel in terms of functonality, performance and reputation owing to its privacy and data usage issues. While being called out for scrutiny by US presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren and UK Chancellor Philip Hammond amongst others, Facebook’s algorithm changes in 2018 to bring people closer have resulted in a 50% dive in engagement levels. Its referral traffic for news and politics reduced by over 30%, art and entertainment traffic came down to 71%, while music and fashion plumetted to 60% making Facebook an unreliable source for gaining subscriptions.

Revival of newsletters

Meanwhile, newsletters are again emerging as a platform that allows publishers to give content to readers and check whether they are visting the sites or not. Newsletters also work as a secondary channel to update readers and can function as lead generation tools that are marketed and promoted on social media channels and to register users. They give readers the opportunity to enrol without becoming paid subscribers. Publishers, on the other hand, have the opportunity to be in constant contact and can draw readers into the content ecosystem – a glide path to paid subscriptions.

The positive digital subscription trends in the magazine and newspaper industry imply that when provided with quality journalism, readers will readily pay. Paid digital content strategies are likely to meet with success and could be the basis of survival for many newspapers and magazines.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

It is the right time to support our high-impact reporting and authoritative and technical information with some of the best correspondents in the industry. Readers can power Indian Printer and Publisher’s balanced industry journalism and help sustain us by subscribing.

– Naresh Khanna

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