GNI Subs Lab: 3 case studies from local publishers hyper-focused on digital subscription growth


As the Google News Initiative Subscriptions Lab advances into the experimentation and testing phase — the third and final phase of the program — each of the ten participating publishers used the recent Elevate! conference to update the industry on the roadmaps they have developed, and their goals moving forward.

All ten are focused on designing and conducting multiple experiments, typically 12 weeks in scope, as part of shorter-term, one-year roadmap development, while also putting cornerstones in place for longer-term digital transformation.

The goals of experimentation and testing are twofold:

1.) to make progress in improving key metrics that move publishers further along the digital maturity curve

2.) to develop a cross-functional company culture that embraces a test-and-iterate mindset to generate rapid learnings

The publisher report-outs at Elevate! spanned four key themes: organizational readiness, customer experience, conversion/retention, and marketing. Here we showcase several of the publisher roadmaps that have been developed and subsequent experiments that are underway.

El Nuevo Dia (GFR Media) – Organizational readiness for digital subscriptions growth

El Nuevo Dia, a Puerto Rican daily, conducted in-depth audience surveying to understand what readers were and were not willing to pay for to create more focused product differentiation. As a byproduct of the survey insights, they developed premium, hard-locked subscriber exclusives, and closely tracked the types of premium content that drove the most traffic and conversions.

They found that 90 percent of the premium content generating the most conversions came from Opinion pieces. Local news was second. Meanwhile, 22 percent of total conversions now come from premium content, and more than 60 percent of organic conversions.

Toronto Star – Reducing customer churn

All ten publishers in the Subscriptions Lab are focused on efficient new customer acquisition; but as important is retention and its effect on total lifetime value, and the ratio of lifetime value to customer acquisition cost.

In an effort to combat churn after launching its digital subscriptions program last October, Toronto Star tested discounted twelve-month commitments and no-term commitments to better understand price optimization and its relationship to retention. Six months of tests have yielded illuminating results: discounted annual customers retain as a significantly higher rate (both month-to-month and year-to-year), even if they’re bound to a full-year commitment. In fact, no-term customers churn at more than twice the rate of annual churn customers, leading the Star to explore how to better position and market the value of an annual subscription.

The Buffalo News and Houston Chronicle – Qualified lead generation through email newsletters

As has been well-documented, capturing an email address to turn a user from unknown to known is a critical step along the audience journey to conversion. And email newsletter subscribers exhibit greater frequency and depth of engagement, making them far more likely to subscribe. Both The Buffalo News and Houston Chronicle are seeking to lift a key metric – unique newsletter emails per unique visitor – and have taken different strategic steps to achieve this.

Buffalo made a dedicated push to gain more subscribers to its morning roundup newsletter, deploying a modal to capture email that displays on a reader’s first visit to the site. This simple modal strategy has more than quadrupled newsletter email subscribers since launch.

Meanwhile, Houston took a different approach to email capture. The Chronicle added a soft registration wall for users browsing the site in private incognito mode that allows users in this mode to continue reading if they select one of four different options, one of which is signing up for a newsletter.

In just two months, 3,100 new email signups have been recorded, and premium site article views are up by 38 percent.

These are just a few of the examples of work being done in the GNI Subscriptions Lab. For more insight and information, download our two recent reports: