You need to rethink subscriptions

Digital publishing is rapidly growing and to get the most of it, you need to prioritize your subscribers
You need to rethink subscriptions

It’s 2021 and we’ve witnessed a very odd turn of events. What should have slowed down growth has resulted in acceleration in the digital publishing industry. The switch from print to digital has been quick and the general netizen interaction with the web has peaked. With the pandemic, we’ve seen the demand for quality news over chaotic passing on of crumbs. Some brands have used this time to build trust amongst the crowd while a few others have miserably failed. But as a publisher, are you looking at the right things? Maybe it’s time we ask the right questions. As publishers, what are you focusing on?

It is no news that digitization accelerated during the pandemic.

The way we treat content and audience has changed beyond what could have been predicted. You are no longer talking to an audience you cannot see. They’re a tangible factor that has started to impact your revenue more than ever. The pandemic has put the traditional model on a spin and made digital publishing profitable. Publishers have moved away from depending solely on advertisement revenue to more subscriptions. But it’s important to remember, digital subscriptions work with proper content, marketing and technology.

The income for publishers has diversified to :-

  1. Content marketing

  2. Content covertness

  3. Subscriptions

Digital properties have become more important to both publishers and advertisers. Advertisers have digital-first plans now. The television has taken a back seat. As a global community we have come to the understanding that netizens are important and that we must use that resource to our interest. No longer can we look at netizens as a passive audience, they’re responding and interacting with technology better than ever!

"Digital media is in a good place to get the eyeballs. Nothing can take over good content, good user experience and good technology. With these three right, revenue will follow.” - Ahbijit NDTV (while speaking at WAN INFRA.

Publishers, for over 50 years have been chasing an increase in page views for growth. It’s a clear indication that publishers must start looking at a more subscription-led model. Digital has now become a priority, so much that the newsroom strategy has changed. The metrics have changed to:

  • How many users are loyal? Frequent?

  • Comparison between search and social media.

  • How to build loyalty to the site over search

For a publisher, your customer and consumer were different in advertisement led model - which is not the case anymore. Earlier there was a dichotomy. Now that dilemma has gone away. You’re getting paid by your subscribers for content that is authentic and nobody expects you to fabricate or make tweaks for their advantage. The goal is simply - honest, authentic and well researched stories.

It’s possible to keep obsessing over the page views but the real profit lies in converting your users to subscribers. Because having 60M page views per day has no value if you’re not able to convert these views into registered users and subscribers. This may seem alarming for a few publishers but if you do it right, this could yield quick results.

Ease into subscriptions

You can always put your entire content behind a paywall from day 1. However if you want to ease in, try considering different kinds of paywall.

  1. Metered paywall

  2. Porous paywall - dynamic premium paywall

  3. Timewall paywall - limited time to read a article

  4. Hybrid freemium premium paywall

  5. Adaptive and individualised paywall

  6. Charity paywall (example- The guardian)

Subscription modes are about defining and understanding the user needs, and giving them good reasons to convert.

As a publishing group, you must look at your subscription strategy with a wider lens.


  • Audience data,

  • Technology research,

  • Effective communication,

  • Examine retention rates and

  • Always look out for what the audience is trying to tell you.

Factors you should consider while looking for a subscription solution

  • Flexible solution

  • Must be a scalable solution

  • Should be compatible with your CMS

  • Sign ins (single Sign in & user identity )

  • Can your product/subs team work without dependency on tech teams

  • Should support multiple payment gateways

  • Must come with solid analytics

Keep a look out for all the trends:

A visible trend is that of micropayments. 50% of all content we consumed is because it’s recommended. Micropayment will be a big payment tool. With their familiarity and frictionless transaction approach, more people find it easier to access content behind a paywall.

Your mobile-first audience, especially the younger crowd values digital experience. Use their comfort with their phones to your benefit. Come up with interactive experiences and present a vibrant platform for them to explore. You need to use different formats to target better user experience.

Vertiginous collapse in trust of social media platforms. As quick as shares/forwards are, so is the mistrust amongst the crowd. For the same reason, people are developing a habit of visiting news sites directly each day. As they move away from social media’s bandwagon, we must protect and encourage their inner fact-checker. This is an active attempt to know the truth and this is an act independent of social media which should be used by publishers to build a relationship with their target audience.

Lastly, the only way to have a successful monetisation plan is by testing and learning. There is no blueprint for digital publishing. One model does not work for all. It is important to keep exploring your options and learn from the feedback of your target audience.

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