Subscription pressures force product innovation

It was clear early on in 2022 that we were in for a tough year. Global supply chain pressures, the war in Ukraine and economies severely weakened by the pandemic combined to create what we’re calling in the U.K. a “cost-of-living crisis.” These pressures are now impacting the public and, as a result, everyone’s looking to cut spending where they can.

Along with the slowdown in the ad market, analysts forecast that subscription spending will inevitably be hit. How will news subscriptions fare when weighed against Disney+ or other entertainment? So far, there’s little evidence of a slowdown, with many publishers still posting record years for subscriptions. But a little pressure will be no bad thing for forcing innovation.

Full subscriptions are only ever going to convert a small portion of readers. Once growth slows and the lowest-hanging fruit — the superfans — have signed up, publishers will have to get smarter about how to make money from the rest.

In the absence of any tangible examples of micropayments working magic for publishers, teams will need to get smarter about carving off portions of content to entice readers. Whether that’s through mini subscriptions to non-news products like The New York Times’ Cooking and Games, or paid apps offering curated content like the Financial Times’ FT Edit app, the possibilities are endless.

Paid newsletter and podcast tools open this up in a new way. Publishers could use subscriber-only podcasts or paid newsletters as ways to build a relationship with audiences who aren’t yet ready to pay for the full-price experience. Tortoise is just one publisher offering a podcast-only subscription to attract younger audiences to its journalism.

This isn’t a tactic that will work for all subscription publishers. Specialist and niche titles need to be adding value to subscription bundles, not taking it away. But for news publishers in a highly competitive landscape, looking at what you can carve up to super-serve sections of your audience who are not yet paying could well unlock new revenue and long-term relationships.

Esther Kezia Thorpe is a media analyst and cofounder of Media Voices.

Leave a Reply