South China Morning Post returns to a subscription model

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4 years after removing its digital paywall, The South China Morning Post is returning to a digital paywall subscription model. The Honk-Kong based English-language publisher, which reaches up to 50 million readers per month, was acquired by Alibaba in 2016. Since the acquisition, they have operated under a free of charge advertising model.

The takeaways:
  • SCMP announced that the subscription service will being to roll out in August. They will continue to expand the new model to all markets over the next few months.
  • Although no official subscription model has been released, there will be multiple payment options with a limit of 10 free-to-read articles a month.

Transitioning away from ads: “Comprehensive reporting is costly and the century-old advertising model is no longer enough to sustain high-quality news” – Tammy Tam, SCMP Editor-in-Chief.

What do subscribers get?:
  • Unlimited access to SCMP’s news reporting, opinions, in-depth analysis, and investigative journalism about China and the world.
  • Access to personalisation features across our platforms that enhance your reading and discovery experience, along with privileged access to SCMP’s virtual and in-person events.

Always saw it coming: In 2017, CEO Gary Liu announced that the long-term strategy was to focus on expansion before reverting back to a subscription model.

“The bet that we are making is that in less than 10 years, China becomes the No. 1 economy…At that point, we will be living in a world where we cannot ignore China anymore. [Then] we will have the assets and products in place that allow us to build a subscription business.” Liu said.

Zoom out: The move comes as other publishers have moved to subscription and newsletter models recently following the likes of the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Adage, and many others.

  • The Guardian recently moved to a subscription model in April due to financial concerns as a result of the pandemic.
  • Defectors, a new sports blog and media company founded by former Deadspin journalists, launched this week announcing they would be using a subscription-based and writer-ownership model.
  • The Athletic

Analysis from subscription platform Piano shows that in the third week of May, digital subscriptions in Europe increased by 85% and 25% in the U.S., compared to the weekly average in January and February.

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