In this week’s Briefing:
Publishers shift focus to ARPU as subscriber growth slows
That shift is now reflected in earning reports and public statements, as publishers more prominently attribute revenue growth to increased average revenue per user (ARPU) rather than the size of their subscriber bases.
Both the New York Times and Gannett said ARPU increases helped drive revenue growth during the second quarter, for example. NYT said ARPU for its digital-only subscribers has grown consistently over the past five consecutive quarters to reach $9.15, and that it’s now focused on driving uptake of its “All Access” bundle to push that number higher in the years ahead. Gannett also credited an ARPU increase for driving the growth of its overall digital subscription business, stating that digital-only ARPU grew 6% year-over-year to reach $6.35 during the second quarter.
With subscriber growth slowing for many, publishers will increasingly emphasize ARPU and other revenue-based metrics in the months and years ahead. That change will increasingly be reflected in their product offerings and packaging, too, as publishers hunt for ways to maximize the value of their subscriber offerings and use those hooks to begin inching up their pricing.
As the market for publishers’ subscription products matures and moves beyond a land-grab growth stage, long-term winners will increasingly be crowned based on the strength of their content and product offerings rather than the use of aggressive pricing and acquisition approaches.
OpenAI allows publishers to block it from accessing their content
OpenAI says it is now allowing publishers to block its web crawler from scraping their content to help train its GPT models.
The company said website operators can disallow access to its GPTBot crawler in their sites’ Robots.txt file or block its IP address as they might for the crawlers operated by major search engines and other technology companies. If site owners don’t disallow access to their pages, however, “Web pages crawled with the GPTBot user agent may potentially be used to improve future models,” the company said.
OpenAI says any web pages it crawls are filtered to remove sources that require paywall access, but some publishers believe OpenAI and other companies offering generative AI tools have reached beyond their paywalls to gain access to paid content and information. Staffers at multiple publishers say their technology teams are monitoring if and how paywalled content is being used by AI chatbots, whether they can prevent chatbots from weaving their original reporting and information into responses, and – ultimately – if it’s even worth trying to stop them.
Meanwhile, The New York Times is considering legal action against OpenAI as tensions between the two companies escalate over intellectual property rights. The pair have been in negotiations over a licensing deal that could see OpenAI paying the Times for access to its content, but the discussions have reportedly become so contentious that the paper is now considering legal action.
If the Times files suit and a federal judge finds that OpenAI illegally copied the Times’ articles to train its AI model, the court could order the company to destroy ChatGPT’s dataset, forcing the company to recreate it using only work that it is authorized to use.
Also worth noting:
- The New York Times is placing growing emphasis on its “All Access” bundle as it looks to wring more revenue from its subscriber base. All Access grants access to five NYT products, including its core News product, and Games, Cooking, product review service Wirecutter and its sports news site The Athletic. (The publisher is also promoting the product this month via a high-profile sponsorship of NYC’s Grand Central Subway Station and the S shuttle subway train.)
- Telegraph Media Group says it has hit its target of reaching one million subscriptions before the end of 2023. It is the third U.K. news publisher to reach one million subscriptions, after The Guardian and Financial Times which reached a million paying readers online in December 2021 and March 2022 respectively.
- The Times’ head of digital, Edward Roussel, offers some insight into how the publisher hopes to drive continued subscriber growth in the AI era.
- The Economist is using short-form video in an attempt to drive registrations and subscriptions among younger audiences.
- News Corp touts growth at WSJ-parent Dow Jones, but the rest of its business experienced a slowdown over the past year. Digital subscriptions grew across News Corp’s properties, but a decline in advertising revenue took its toll.
- Substack continues its push to become more of a social media platform, adding “follow” functionality to its Twitter-like “Notes” feature.