Reiventing the publishing wheel series publishers subscriptions

Reinventing the Publishing Wheel Series: Publishers Subscriptions

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Putting faith in your reader’s investment in editorial can be a daunting and challenging step for publishers to take, especially when big revenue generators exist, like programmatic advertising. However, reflecting on the perks of a more mature market US publishers saw less increase when compared with Europeans. As the media industry begins to dabble in more self-sufficient models, the benefits of a trusted relationship between reader and publisher are becoming increasingly popular and the subscriptions model starts to gain attention. 


This is the second of a three-piece series focused on discussing the main challenges in the publishing industry. Here, we present different solutions that have been advocated by publishers during summits in 2018. With this post we focus on a better way to serve your reader: the subscription model.




Pete Spande of the Business Insider, at the Digiday Publishing Summit in Vail, claimed “It’s a great time to be a publisher”, with 45% more revenue in 2017 in comparison to 2016. The willingness to pay for content is there, but it seems you have to get creative with what is offered as a membership perk. Early access to content, member-only articles, or other more inventive initiatives like experiences are different approaches to pitching new subscriptions.


In addition, Avi Zimak of the New York Times discussed the importance of content-first followed by commerce, not the contrary during the same publishing summit. A few months later, at Cannes Lions, Samantha Barry Editor-in-Chief of Glamour talked about their shift in thinking when it comes to content creation highlighting overlooked voices in fashion.




Edging away from the same stories that appear to be replicated across pages of different publishers, and delving deeper into unique articles that can’t be found elsewhere. This single view is what can give your content the added value needed to generate more subscriptions. Other publishers, such as US Vogue and Buzzfeed are creating additional value through production of exclusive content tailored for each social media.




Publishers like De correspondent, who find success in only using subscriptions to generate revenue, and who have developed 12 founding principles for Ad-free journalism, invest hugely in this mentality of content first. A huge part of this model is transparency and inclusiveness between reader and publisher, where De Correspondent encourages their journalists to share the work they are creating publically with their audience. This opens the floor to discussions and further insights on topics. “Our reporters spend up to 50 per cent of their time engaging with members,” stated Maaike Goslinga, international editor. This means readers have a direct collaboration with the narrative and can offer diverse opinions and discussions about each story created.



reader's comments supporting De Correspondent subscription model

Why readers support De Correspondent



In a similar mindset, bigger publishers like The New York Times are also taking further strides towards building stronger relationships with their readers. One strategy was to initiate live video seminars between editors and readers to discuss upcoming articles as a membership ‘perk’. Developing interaction with readers should be the starting point of strategizing these perks. This doesn’t mean going as far as live-streaming your editor’s meetings, but could be early access to content, a publisher-lead forum to discuss ideas, or a lower budget exclusive podcast, delving into niche subjects. The New York Times followed suit with the rising popularity of podcasts in today’s culture and produced a narrative-driven documentary podcast. The series was then released early to members, meaning anyone who needed to scratch the cliffhanger itch has the incentive to subscribe.




While membership can vary between different paywall models, the key takeaway is starting a dialogue with your reader. At Condé Nast-owned technology site Ars Technica, members can access live moderated chats and interact with industry experts. Co-creation using forum or seminars allows them to share their ideas and suggestions, creating a stronger bond between publishers and reader.


On the other hand, The Guardian chose not to create any subscription system. Generating revenue through advertising and reader contribution, the British newspaper kept their vision of making their journalism publicly available. This authentic approach of asking for as little as £1 has already started to pay off. This year, the number of supporters for the Guardian US surpassed 300,000 and represents one-third of its revenue.


With readers becoming digital savvy and all the boundaries being broken by social media, it’s time to focus on what connects you to your reader and how you can engage with them in a deep and meaningful way. Encouraging their participation, creativity and curiosity will be the bread and butter of this new era of the reading experience.

Want more like this?

Receive our latest insights straight to your inbox