Webinar Recap: A New Paradigm of Readership in Local News

New research in subscriptions focuses on subscribers and their willingness to pay

Data gathered by Medill Local News Initiative at Northwestern University shows that the story types that drive the most important communications and subscribers’ willingness to pay are differentiated stories that can only be found in one specific platform, in addition to national news and local sports. Those stories add value to people’s reads and, ultimately, drive subscribers’ regularity. According to Edward Malthouse, Research Director of Medill’s Spiegel Research Center, who presented the findings on a recent Alliance webinar, the most important factor that news platforms need to be monitoring is the driver for regularity and loyalty, rather than more subscribers or page views.

Also speaking on the webinar, Gannett’s director of Market Insights and Data Science, Heather Perez explained that regularity can be achieved by creating daily e-newsletters and developing a close relationship with subscribers’ interests. Readers want to get news articles that they would have missed otherwise. However, to keep subscribers from churning, news platforms need to offer the best user experience possible – one that battles disengagement, which, according to Malthouse, is driven by ad heavy platforms and the overwhelming amount of news articles that bombard users every day.

When investigating the cause for subscribers’ churn, Malthouse came up with two hypotheses. The first is that the more articles a person reads, the more ads they encounter and the more annoyed they get, to the point of churning. He found a strong association between ad blocker usage or ad light subscriptions and lower churn. However, it does not solve the problem completely. His second hypothesis focuses on commoditized content. If subscribers are getting the same information they can get somewhere else or that they can get for free, they are not going to find a reason to maintain their subscription.

The third panelist, Mackenzie Warren, Gannett’s Senior Director of News Strategy, said that the main solutions to decreasing churn are cutting out irrelevant or unnecessary content and improving each news article’s precision. Maintaining email newsletters is also a good way to relieve the weight of too much information, as well as writing story recaps or short stories for the platform’s homepage. By updating your mobile homepage and creating a more immersive platform, subscribers will also maintain their loyalty, according to Warren.

For future research, the team will focus on approaching more markets to test their findings and release new products that will help digital news improve their performance.

View a recording of the webinar (member login required)

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