These are some of the biggest lessons learned from publishers taking part in the GNI Subscriptions Lab


A media executive who knows a thing or two about building a successful digital subscription business will share lessons learned so far from the Google News Initiative Subscriptions Lab at October’s Innovation Mission in Philadelphia.

FTI Consulting, a partner with LMA in the GNI Subs Lab, has helped produce an extensive benchmarking report, a digital subscriptions playbook, and supported the 10 newspaper publisher participants with tangible data, guidance, and insight. Managing Director Peter Doucette will delve deep into the GNI Subscription Lab successes and best practices during this Innovation Mission, and share some of the strategies he used while at The Boston Globe that led to their industry-leading digital subscription model.

During the Innovation Mission, hear about core takeaways that have emerged so far from the GNI Subscriptions Lab.

  • It is critical to understand what you are solving for as a publisher. The idea of just trying to grow digital subscriptions is not enough.
  • Publisher size is not a good predictor of success with respective benchmarks, but rather organizational focus and commitment to subscriber model.
  • Understand which customer (print or digital) is most important to your organization and act accordingly.
  • Study, track, monitor and obsess over the subscriber journey, across all touchpoints.
  • Newsletters are probably the most powerful tool in the publisher toolkit. It is a direct relationship with a reader, an opportunity to personalize, and builds the habit and relationship.
  • Build a culture of experimentation. Even if something doesn’t work, you gain insights. Think of experiments as a batting average: it’s a marathon and not a sprint.

Happening now in the GNI Subs Lab is the phase in which Doucette and FTI Consulting work with each publisher to prioritize the roadmap projects and turn their roadmaps into action items.

“The first step is to create experiments to test different hypotheses. You need to design the experiments and be disciplined about execution and measurement,” Doucette said. “One of the key areas will be aligning resources to help execute the action items. We are big proponents of cross-functional, mission-based teams to help move the needle on the most important KPIs.”

Doucette had success helping build the digital subscription business at The Boston Globe, and said it’s essential that publishers commit their adamant focus on a future business model that it is centered around reader revenue.

“Act like digital subscriptions are your No. 1 priority and then get resourced and prioritized accordingly,” he said. “Focus on 3-year revenue and not short-term. Short-term focus is a trap and prevents you from truly innovating or evolving. The goal is to do fewer things but be the best in the world at them.”

Doucette said he has studied the empirical evidence believes strongly in the future of digital subscriptions as the only viable option for local news publishers.

“I also believe it is completely achievable for a local news publisher to be funded by digital subscriptions. The number of subscribers that you need is fewer than most publishers think, assuming you charge the right price for great local journalism,” he said.

A subscriber model is also aligned with the journalistic mission for local news publishers.

“Subscribers don’t buy content or stories, but rather support the journalism machine to uncover corruption, hold powerful accountable and provide a window into living in local communities,” he said. “It is a symbiotic relationship and arguably far healthier than the ad-supported model of the past hundred years.”

You can still register for the Innovation Mission in Philly by clicking here.