The idea that publishers have reached peak subscriptions is not new. We wrote about it on Spiny Trends more than a year ago. Reports of slowing growth and subscription fatigue continue, but at least one senior editor thinks that the idea that we have reached ‘peak subscriptions’ is laughable.
- The deputy editor-in-chief at Swedish paper Aftonbladet has said that the notion of peak subscriptions is laughable. Writing on the INMA blog, Martin Schori said nothing could be more wrong, unless publishers do ‘exactly what we are doing now’.
- While acknowledging the rapid growth in digital subscriptions, Schori thinks that publishers have ‘barely’ started their digital transformation. But, he believes many are still producing print publications on the Internet.
- Schori thinks that, while other industries try everything they can to adapt their product offering to meet their customers’ needs, in the media it sometimes seems to be the opposite. Instead, publishers try to get customers to change their behaviours to suit existing products and business models. He wrote:
We talk a lot about putting the audience first, but do we actually do it? How many of us start our day by asking ourselves what the audience expects from us today? What does our target audience look like, and what do they need?
- Schori points to user surveys that show audiences – especially younger audiences – want to see story overviews. These suggest that users scan for information, but many publishers stick with print-style articles that ‘bury’ the information people are looking for in ‘long paragraphs of text and quotes’.
- While acknowledging that ‘quality journalism’ drives subscriber conversion, he thinks there is too much focus on long-form, in-depth articles. Different definitions of quality must be found for other formats that convert. He wrote:
If we think about what we do and our position today — and then think ahead to what we can do — the question of whether we have peaked becomes almost laughable.
- For Schori, publishers need to adopt a ‘disruptive strategic shift’. They need to move from putting print publications online, to creating digital news services where user needs are front and centre. He advocates for ‘smoother’ user experiences with concise summaries in audio, video, and text to provide quick overviews.
- He also suggests better recommendation algorithms and a level of personalization, writing:
For those of us who want to rebuild, or even break down and build anew, the feeling is not that we have peaked. Rather, it’s that “the sky is the limit.
Reasons for optimism
Supporting Schori’s optimism, two recent reports have shown that gloomy economic conditions have not significantly hurt subscription revenues. Subscription consultants Toolkits admit that converting and retaining subscribers is more challenging than it was. However, they say publishers are reporting that subscription revenues are ‘holding up well’ overall.
Tookits findings chime with numbers reported in subscription platform Zuora’s latest Subscription Economy Index (SEI). The report states that subscription-based companies are continuing to grow, albeit modestly. They said the media and publishing sectors witnessed subscription revenue growth of 4.6% last year.