How Successful Publishers Grow Subscription Revenue

Media & Publishing|5 Minute Read

How Successful Publishers Grow Subscription Revenue

Now, more than ever, publishers are turning to subscription revenue in their ongoing quest to diversify their revenue streams and improve their bottom lines.

In fact, a 2019 Digiday survey of 100-plus publishing executives found the top goal in 2020 and beyond was to grow both direct-sold advertising and subscription revenue.

Not surprisingly, Facebook has been a staple of publishers’ media mix when it comes to driving new subscriptions, thanks to its massive audience reach and ad targeting options.

Digiday’s Lucinda Southern highlights the importance of Facebook, in particular, to publishers’ subscription-based program success as it pertains to their targeted advertising:

“Outside of publishers’ own platforms, Facebook is a top driver of subscriptions because of its unrivaled scale, ease of use and precision targeting making it ideal for direct response-driven advertising.”

However, publishers are starting to question their heavy reliance on Facebook ads to drive their subscription revenue. And with the slow march toward the death of third-party cookies, publishing executives are justifiably looking for viable alternatives.

So, the question is: Can publishers actually quit Facebook?

The risk of relying solely on Facebook ads to drive your subscription revenue

While there is no match for Facebook’s reach (besides Google, of course), there are ways publishers can enhance their acquisition efforts to drive new subscription revenue so they can be less reliant on Facebook ads for all their success or failures.

A 2019 survey by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found just 43% of news publishers stated Facebook would be “important” or “extremely important” to their subscription strategies and recurring revenue moving forward.

The rationale behind this change? Publishers don’t want to depend on third parties — no matter how large their audience data sets are — as the only arrow in their quiver, when it comes to increasing their subscription revenue.

Additionally, growing their subscriber base is only half the battle. Publishing brands must equally focus on retaining the existing subscribers they already have.

first-party data

Adopting a first-party data strategy to increase your subscription revenue

There’s so much more to increasing subscription revenue than just driving new users to your site with Facebook ads. Publishing organizations also need to ask themselves:

  • “How do I turn more of my anonymous user traffic into known readers that login?”
  • “How do I convert casual readers into full subscribers at a higher rate?”
  • “How do I increase retention among my current subscribers?”
  • “How do I upgrade current subscribers to a premium subscription?”
  • “How do I get my most loyal readers to donate?”

Publishers that have cracked the nut on these questions have one thing in common:

They’ve all developed a robust first-party data strategy for all customer lifecycle stages to ultimately increase subscription revenue.

As BlueConic’s Patrick Crane remarked, many publishers are eager to adjust their business models and diversify their revenue streams in 2020 and the years ahead.

Crane indicated there was “palpable unease from many publishers” at a recent Digiday Publishing Summit he attended. Why? Constant changes with the aforementioned walled gardens that affected their day-to-day targeting and long-term revenue growth.

But he also saw many eager to pivot to strategies revolving around first-party data.

Publishers Clearing House Assistant Vice President and General Manager Steve Bagdasarian relayed the pros of a first-party data approach for publishers to AdExchanger:

“Logged-in users provide the best first-party data, not only because they provide correct information, but because their login is the basis of an ongoing relationship that will yield richer data over time.”

It’s simple: The more first-party data you collect about your audience — not just logged-in readers, but also anonymous visitors, long-time subscribers, and app users — the more valuable, one-to-one marketing experiences you can deliver to those individuals.

Simply put, properly leveraging your unified, first-party data across channels and in every stage of the customer lifecycle will lead to increased subscription revenue.

first-party data

Modern martech: The key to enabling subscription revenue success today

Increasingly, major publishers like the Boston Globe, National Review, WEHCO Media, and the San Francisco Chronicle are implementing a customer data platform (CDP) as the enabling technology to bring their respective first-party customer data strategies to life.

That’s because it’s the only technology that can not only unify all of their first-party data across channels and sources into individual-level customer profiles (both known and anonymous), but also make it possible to take action on that data in real time.

For example, BlueConic customer WEHCO Media noted it’s now using our pure-play CDP to power both its subscriber acquisition and retention efforts across marketing channels.

Subscriber acquisition

WEHCO Media’s Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette newspaper had a basic paywall on its website that limited non-subscribers’ article access to five for some time.

Despite the common approach used by other newspapers, the publisher’s subscription sign-ups floundered without a more personalized experience and dynamic metering approach.

Using BlueConic, WEHCO unified all known and anonymous reader data, which enabled one-to-one subscription messaging based on their attributes, interests, and behaviors.

The results? A 100% increase in digital subscriptions for WEHCO since it implemented the hyper-personalized metering strategy — one powered by unified first-party data.

Subscriber retention

What’s more, WEHCO Media’s marketing team also takes advantage of all the audience data unified in BlueConic to not only gain new subscribers, but also retain current ones.

For example, the publisher uses BlueConic’s AI Workbench to apply machine learning (i.e., predictive modeling, audience analysis) to understand what turns readers into subscribers.

Our out-of-the-box propensity-to-churn model, for instance, informs the publisher which subscribers should be exposed to renewal incentives and which ones should not (e.g., subscribers who are deemed likely to renew anyway, and therefore, don’t need incentive).

first-party data

Why adopting a CDP to drive subscription revenue is additive, not ‘in place of’

Adopting a CDP to drive your subscription revenue doesn’t mean you need to abandon your digital advertising efforts with Google, Facebook, and other vendors.

(In fact, a customer data platform can help you reduce ad spend waste so you can allocate your adverting dollars more effectively and help you realize you don’t need to spend quite as much on Facebook to achieve the same desired results.)

Rather, it simply means you should balance your Facebook ad spend with a first-party data strategy that leads to better results in every stage of the customer lifecycle.

Watch our webinar to learn how you can evolve your publishing brand’s subscription revenue model and better monetize your first-party customer data.

subscription revenue

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