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During the lead-up to the last US election and throughout the ongoing global pandemic, subscriptions have been skyrocketing for many publishers. 


Between March and May 2020, the 164-year-old Atlantic turned heads by attracting 90,000 new subscribers, the New York Times reports. Combined, the largest newspapers in the US and UK added more than a million digital subscribers over a similar period, as per Press Gazette research.


The sign-up boom has helped publishers, often reliant on ads, to diversify revenue streams. It’s also spurring strategic pivots.


8 in 10 publishing executives cite subscriptions-”rather than streams like ads, commerce, and events-”as their main revenue priority for 2022, according to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. In terms of publishers’ specific plans, turning attention to “casual,” “infrequent,” and “picky” readers shows the greatest promise for growth, says the International News Media Association (INMA).


These findings underscore a broader need, one addressed in Lineup’s recent white paper, 6-Step Roadmap to Optimizing Your Subscription Strategy. Having acquired more subscribers, it’s time for publishers to keep these new audiences engaged. But how?


First, let’s consider the challenges publishers may encounter, and where they could be going wrong. Then, we’ll look at possible solutions.


Why aren’t subscribers committing?

Some subscriber commitment issues are out of a publisher’s hands. For example, a subscriber’s circumstances, like their financial situation, can abruptly change.


In most cases, though, media companies can and should address the causes of subscriber attrition. Here are three common factors that contribute to churn:

  • Pricing: If the gap between the initial trial price and the actual subscription rate is too wide, audiences may be turned off from committing because they don’t see the value.


  • Content quality: If users view media content as a higher-quality product, they’re more likely to pay for it, notes the World Economic Forum. Whatever the format, volume is less important to subscribers than quality.


  • Choice: A one-size-fits-all subscription solution won’t work in the contemporary media landscape, nor will several variations of one. Publishers need to be able to offer a highly personalized experience. 

Some publishers may have been relying too heavily on sign-up volume, neglecting the retention side. This could partly explain the early-pandemic subscription boom, suggests online trade magazine Digiday. 


For media companies who decide to turn to nurturing their existing audiences, there’s still an important question: What next?


Tech as a solution to subscriber commitment issues

Subscription success often boils down to good curation. “How do you secure audience extension without compromising yield? You need to make sure that your content is curated appropriately,” says Chris Coward of Coward Consulting.


Curation is about delivering the most relevant content to a specific audience. Based on years of industry experience, publishers may have hunches about what their different segments are hungry for. Tech helps them make data-based decisions. 


Here are three ways tech can help media companies increase paid and upgraded subscriptions, reduce churn, and generally get more buy-in from their audiences:

  • Subscriber profiles: To effectively curate content, media companies first need deep insights into their existing subscription base. To get these insights, publishers need to create detailed profiles for every single subscriber, which can be done with a tool like Amplio, Lineup’s subscription management platform.


  • Customization: Publishers realize the true value of subscriber data when it’s used to inform and execute targeted campaigns. By using Amplio’s unique subscriber profiles, teams can create distinct audience groups and then send them personalized deals or bundles based on their past interactions with a publisher’s content.


  • Testing: Regularly-”and, ideally, frequently-”testing is a proven approach to converting audiences to paid subscribers, publishing experts agree. This has often been a costly and technical process, but that’s changing with the built-in testing capabilities of Amplio. 

Before Covid-19, few could have predicted the number of new subscribers that the industry would see in a very short time. Publishers with tailored subscription platforms in place enjoyed a competitive edge.


Market watchers aren’t anticipating another subscription boom-”at least, not in the near future-”so media companies are doubling down on retention. But, like earlier in the pandemic, publishers with access to real-time analytics, subscriber profiles, and efficient testing are positioning themselves for greater gains.


Lineup Systems is the world's leading provider of media sales technology, representing over 6,800 media brands globally, including Gannett/USA Today, New York Times and News Corp. Amplio is Lineup's multi- channel audience monetization solution that helps media companies realize their full reader revenue potential, using data-driven intelligence to engage, nurture and monetize readers with personalized offers that increase reader revenue and reduce churn. Adpoint is Lineup's end-to-end multi-channel media advertising sales solution that helps media companies streamline operations, make better use of data, increase efficiency and boost revenue.