Summer Subscription Surges Reported Across a Range of Publishers

Via Unsplash

The positive effects of the ‘coronabump’ on traffic and subscriptions to publisher sites shows no sign of slowing yet. Many publishers reported recent subscription surges and key milestones.

The big numbers:
  • The Atlantic had a wave of 20,000 subscriptions in one weekend – worth over $1 million – after President Trump dismissed the publication as a ‘dying’ magazine. The insult came after The Atlantic published Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg’s article on “Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers’”
  • Spanish newspaper El País launched its subscription program in May. Since then, 64,200 readers have purchased a digital-only subscription; nearly a quarter of total digital news subscriptions in Spain.
  • Sports site The Athletic has hit 1 million subscribers, despite a months-long sports shutdown. Co-founder Adam Hansmann admits the lack of sports “should have been the end for us.”

Against the odds: This is very positive news for any publishers with a reader revenue strategy. Not only are these organizations growing, but they are growing strongly in a challenging climate.

  • The Atlantic’s initial goal was 110,000 subscribers in the first two years of the paywall, which they launched in September 2019. A year later, and the publisher has managed 325,000 paid subscribers, almost triple their target in half the time.
  • The Athletic had a rough few months as sports shut down, and laid off 46 employees. There was also a sweeping 10% pay cut across the company. But as sports coverage comes creeping back, The Athletic is now adding more subscribers per day than ever. It is planning a global expansion to scoop up its next 1 million subscribers.
Digging deeper:

The triggers for the growth are different in each of these examples, but it’s pointing to a wider trend that should be encouraging for publishers; that people are increasingly willing to pay for content.

  • Whilst advertising plummeted and event revenue was decimated almost overnight with COVID, publishers with other streams such as eCommerce and reader revenue have found these areas have delivered much-needed growth.

These publishers have reached milestones in September, but they aren’t the only ones to have seen significant growth this year thanks to COVID. Other notable subscription successes include:

  • The New York Times, added 600,000 digital subscribers in Q1 2020 bringing their total to over 6 million (print & digital) subscribers.
  • Subscriptions to CNBC Pro, CNBC’s premium product costing $29.99 a month, were up 189% since January. This was no doubt helped by their website hitting 1 billion page views for the first time in March.
  • Tribune Publishing had a 293% increase in new digital subscriptions between February and March. During this time, the conversion rate from users hitting the paywall increased by 109%.

Long-term thinking: As the number of subscription offerings has increased, publishers are becoming concerned about ‘subscription fatigue’. With consumers having to tighten their belts as the recession bites, how many of these new subscribers will renew when the time comes around?

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