Audience DevelopmentSubscriptions

Delivering digital magazine subscription growth

subscription growth
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The latest UK publishing industry subscription figures showed digital magazine subscription growth increasing for publishers. Overall digital edition sales grew by 20% in 2021, up from about 1.5 million in 2020 to surpass 2 million last year. But, with the exception of The Economist, overall numbers are still relatively low.

  • The Economist reached nearly one million subscribers in 2021, according to the latest ABC report after posting an increase in global digital circulation of 14%. The weekly accounts for almost half of all digital magazine subscriptions audited by ABC in the UK.
  • Although almost all publishers saw significant digital magazine subscription growth – most in double figures – the combined subscription numbers of the remaining titles in the top ten only add up to about a quarter of The Economist’s subscription total. Time Magazine’s EMEA edition is second on the list averaging less than 38,000 sales per week.
  • The success of the Economist’s digital edition is explained by the title’s early paywall introduction, blocking access to archived editorial content since 2009. According to its latest ABC audit, its entire digital circulation is made up of paid subscribers.
Growth strategies

Although leading titles, from Moneyweek to Men’s Health, have a long way to go to catch up with the Economist, publishers see real potential in digital subscriptions.

  • Sam Gallimore, chief customer officer at Bauer Media in the UK told Press Gazette that the company has a successful and growing subscription business with many of its titles ‘pivoting’ to a direct and recurring revenue model. He confirms the importance of locking content behind a paywall: 

Putting magazine content behind a paywall can help with expanding audience reach and targeting different groups of consumers.

  • Separating casual readers from committed audiences allows the publisher to build an understanding of content consumption patterns and tailor product offerings and pricing. Article collections can be used to introduce new readers to a brand without requiring any commitment. If they engage, the publisher can target them with more content and begin to upsell them to a membership.
Long-term value

Jess Burney, subscriptions managing director at Immediate Media told Press Gazette some businesses are ‘simply perfect’ for subscriptions.

  • She explains that if you have a clearly defined customer base that needs or wants your product on a regular basis, and you can deliver your product directly cost-effectively, investing in a subscription model will dramatically increase long-term profitability, cash flow and company value.
  • She says publishers with special interest content, direct access to interested communities and seamless digital paywalls are seeing success. However, developing subscription success does involve upfront investment in marketing, customer experience, fulfillment and technology.

Companies who are passionate about data and adopt a test and learn culture are setting the bar for best practice.

Multi-channel development

Digital newsstand Readly, working with 1,200 publishers globally, recommends adopting a multi-channel approach to subscription development. Head of content Chris Crouchman suggests working with a variety of partners to test engagement lifetime value.

Don’t be afraid to try out new routes and use the vast amounts of data available.

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