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After conversion: How to engage and retain new subscribers

Once a reader has moved down the path to subscription, the journey is not over. Winning someone over to subscribe is not the end of the relationship, nor is it the beginning. It is probably better understood as the middle. (A major issue, not fully addressed in this report, is reducing friction in the sign-up page. Anecdotally, publishers have told us this is a major factor increasing subscription success.)

Once someone has subscribed, understanding how that person behaves after conversion helps to retain them. It is particularly important given that the largest trigger for new subscribers (45 percent of them) is a discount or promotion—for these people, more work remains to persuade them to continue at full price.

Why people use the publication they just subscribed to

We asked people, now that they had subscribed, what jobs they feel the publication is doing for them. Even when a person’s triggers for subscribing were transactional (like a discount promotion), we find it significant that respondents tend to cite journalistic factors as the most-valued benefits once they are a subscriber.

At the top of the list of reasons they use the publication now, people cited the publication’s accuracy (78 percent), its willingness to admit mistakes (69 percent), and its dealing fairly with all sides (68 percent).

More transactional factors, such as saving money or helping with people’s work, are cited by fewer of the recent subscribers who answered the survey.

Value from subscribing Percent
Helps me get accurate information 78%
It is willing to admit its mistakes 69%
It deals fairly with all sides 68%
Helps me be a better citizen 63%
It acts as a check on political leaders 62%
Is very good at covering a topic 52%
It cares about the people it reports on 47%
Is enjoyable or entertaining 41%
Helps me talk to friends 41%
Helps me save money 29%
Helps me care for myself or my family 24%
It helps me do my job 12%

Data Source: Question: People use news for many reasons. When it comes to the biggest reasons you use [NAME OF NEWSPAPER], how important to you is it that it…?

Media Insight Project

New subscribers follow a variety of topics, and nearly half follow local politics and government

We also asked people who had subscribed what topics they tended to follow most closely in the paper. It is important to note that the answers for this varied notably by the size of the paper (see section below). So these answers are both general in nature and are limited by the nature of the sample of people willing to fill out the survey.

Even with those caveats, the “hard news” or civic nature of the topics is interesting. The new subscribers in our study are highly attracted to their newspaper’s coverage of local government and politics. That topic is cited as important by 46 percent, more than any other subject.

Among some of the types of new subscribers we break down later in this report, interest in local government spikes even higher.

National politics is the second most popular (35 percent), and higher still at larger publications. There is then a set of topics that each is followed by about 1 in 5 respondents: business and economics, pro sports and college sports, neighborhood news, public safety, and then lifestyle, culture, and food.

The answers are a mix, but they are strongly connected, as were the background factors for subscribing in the first place, to civic affairs and feeling connected to the local community.

 Topic Percent
Local politics or government 46%
National politics or government 35%
Business and the economy 23%
Professional sports 22%
My neighborhood or suburb 21%
College or HS sports 21%
Crime and public safety 18%
Art and culture 14%
Lifestyle topics (food/pets/parenting) 13%
Foreign or international news 13%
Weather and national disasters 12%
Healthcare and medical information 10%
Schools and education 9%
Social issues (abortion/race/rights) 8%
The environment and climate change 6%
Science and technology 6%
Entertainment and celebrities 5%
My hobbies 2%
Traffic 1%

Data Source: Question: Here are some common news and information topics. Which of these news topics do you follow most often or closely using [NAME OF NEWSPAPER]? Please select up to three (3).

Media Insight Project

People interact with newspapers they recently subscribed to in a variety of ways

Beyond what they read, and perhaps most significantly for publications devising a strategy to retain customers, we also asked people how they use the paper now that they had subscribed. The range of uses is varied and suggests the myriad of ways a modern publication now can be part of readers’ lives.

Atop the list, about half say they used coupons from the print paper, while 4 in 10 report they share content with others. Later in this report we examine differences between print and digital subscribers—and there these uses will vary.

Things subscribers do Percent
Use the coupons 52%
Regularly share its content 43%
Save print copies to read later or share 38%
Regularly visit its website 33%
Use its app 24%
Encounter it on Google search 20%
Subscribe to an email newsletter 18%
Receive text messages or news alerts 16%
Go to events it organizes 13%
Follow news org on social media 10%
Follow its journalists on social media 9%
Post comments 6%
Listen to podcasts / audio 4%

Data Source: Question: Now that you subscribe to [NAME OF NEWSPAPER], in which of the following ways do you interact with [NAME OF NEWSPAPER]? Do you …?

Media Insight Project

Among those who use the source before subscribing, whether increasing from daily to more than daily, or weekly to more often, or something else, 70 percent now use the source more frequently after subscribing than they did before. But, they not only use it more frequently, they interact with it in new ways. Among those who used the source previously, their use of coupons increased by 17 percentage points after subscribing, their sharing of content increased by 16 percentage points, and their use of the app or an email newsletter increased by 13 percentage points.

All told, the findings show that most people interact with their newspaper now in more than one way, even though the population of recent subscribers who answered the survey is heavily print oriented.

Indeed, just 18 percent say they mostly interact with the paper by only one method, while the majority (52 percent) say they regularly interact with the newspaper in at least three ways.

New subscribers cite a number of subscription benefits ranging from access to both print and digital to supporting the news organization

What benefit do people think they are getting now that they have subscribed?

While many respondents might have been motivated to subscribe based on a transactional reason, such as a deal or to get discounts, the most popular subscription benefits that people cite are related to the content and for civic reasons. 

The answers here are a mix for the overall population of new subscribers. Later in this report, we break down nine different paths to subscription, which offer more distinction as to when opinions differ about perceived benefits.

 Benefit of subscribing Percent
I get access to print and digital 46%
Supporting the news organization 41%
Coupons or discounts 34%
I get exclusive news 30%
Unlimited number of digital stories 22%
Access to publisher events 10%
Access to giveaways or other benefits 7%

Data Source: Question: Now that you subscribe to [NAME OF NEWSPAPER], which of the following do you consider the biggest benefit of your subscription? Please select up to three (3).

Media Insight Project

Most respondents consider their newspaper reliable and a good value

At a time when trust in news has become a prominent topic in the national dialogue, the survey asked these new subscribers how reliable they considered the publication they had recently subscribed to.

Because this sample is of new subscribers who were willing to answer a survey about their publication, the answers may be skewed toward favorable opinions. The open-ended answers to the question of why people subscribed made it clear not everyone loves their publication, but in general people give it high marks when asked about specific aspects of the publication.

Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) consider the news from their new publication completely or very reliable. A quarter (26 percent) say just moderately reliable, and only 9 percent do not view it as reliable.

Another issue, as journalism in general and the newspaper industry in particular shifts to rely on subscriptions more than advertising, is how much publications will be able to charge for subscriptions.

The findings suggest this population of new subscribers believe they are getting a good value. In all, 45 percent of these subscribers think they are getting either a very good value (29 percent) or a somewhat good value (17 percent). Another third think they are getting a fair value.

Very good value 29%
Somewhat good value 16%
Fair value 31%
Somewhat overpriced 16%
Very overpriced 7%

Data Source: Question: Think about your satisfaction with [SOURCE] given the price you pay for it. Which statement comes closest to your opinion?

Media Insight Project

In addition, most subscribers who filled out the survey found the sign-up process painless—65 percent describe it as very easy and 24 percent say it was somewhat easy, compared to just 8 percent who found it somewhat difficult and 3 percent who found it very difficult. Of course these data only reflect the attitudes of people who successfully completed the subscription process and then also agreed to take a survey several weeks later. It would be a mistake to consider that these numbers represent the feelings of all people who encounter a subscription page on the average newspaper website.

It is important that it is easy to subscribe and that readers feel like they are getting a good value because respondents have many other paid options in their media diet. About 4 in 10 respondents say they pay for another newspaper, and 7 in 10 report paying for some other source of news. In addition, 8 in 10 pay for cable or satellite TV.

News source paid for Percent
Cable or satellite TV 78%
Any other news source (NET) 69%
A magazine in print or digital 52%
Streaming TV (Netflix/Hulu) 46%
Any other paper (NET) 39%
Public radio or TV station (PBS/NPR) 30%
Other local newspaper, print or digital 26%
Streaming music (Spotify/Pandora) 22%
National newspaper, print or digital 21%
Digital-only news app or website 15%
Email newsletter 11%

Data Source: Question: Next, we are interested in whether you paid to use any other media in the last year other than your subscription to [NAME OF NEWSPAPER]. For each of the following types of media, please indicate whether you personally have a subscription or pay for it on a regular basis, or not.

Media Insight Project

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