In this week’s Subscription Publishing Briefing:
Time removes the paywall from its digital content
Time is abandoning its paywall and intends to monetize its digital audience primarily through sponsorship and advertising instead. The company said all new content published to its digital channels – as well as its archives from the last 100 years – will be accessible globally for free beginning June 1.
Time had amassed around 250,000 digital subscribers, but new CEO Jessica Sibley said the decision to move away from a paid subscription model was motivated by its belief in “digital inclusion.” However, it’s safe to assume the publisher also believes it can monetize its content more effectively via advertising and sponsorship than it can by charging for access.
“Our mission is to provide trusted, quality storytelling about the people and ideas shaping our world, and to ensure that information is accessible to as many people as possible, regardless of geographic location or socioeconomic status,” Sibley said in a press release, adding “We fundamentally believe that access to trusted information is a global imperative and should be available to all of humanity.”
The move might be interpreted by some as evidence of “peak subscription” or that the subscription model for media is “hitting its limits,” but the reality remains that the model is simply not suited to every brand. Not all publishers have the ability to consistently deliver the type of valuable and differentiated content required to support paid models, despite what they might believe. Monetization models must fit the nature of publishers’ content, editorial missions, audiences and editorial capabilities.
Time’s digital content is technically available for free with registration already – at least to audiences in the U.S. It’s likely a registration wall will persist in some shape or form across a portion of Time’s content beyond June 1, as registration walls play an increasingly important role in publishers’ monetization strategies – including to help drive advertising revenue.
The company will still charge for its print product and will continue to offer a paid digital version of the print magazine through digital retailers such as Amazon and via Apple’s App Store.
The notion of peak subscriptions is “laughable”
Speaking of peak subscriptions, Martin Schori – deputy editor-in-chief at Swedish news publisher Aftonbladet – described the idea as “laughable” in a column published by INMA last week.
Schori acknowledged that digital subscription growth for news publishers has slowed, but attributes that slowdown primarily to a lack of innovation on publishers’ parts. Many publishers are failing to deliver products and experiences that audiences find genuinely compelling, he argues, particularly as it relates to attracting and engaging younger audiences.
“Despite our belief that we are far ahead in what we call digital transformation, the truth is that we have barely started. In all honesty, many of us are still producing print newspapers on the Internet to varying degrees.” he wrote.
Subscription models continue to face challenges, of course, including the global economic headwinds that look set to persist at least through the end of the year. Nevertheless, opportunity remains for publishers that continue to innovate and successfully deliver relevant, innovative news products.
“For those of us who want to rebuild, or even break down and build anew, the feeling is not that we have peaked. Rather, it’s that ‘the sky is the limit,’” Schori concludes.
More publishers adopt 4-week subscription billing cycles
A growing number of publishers are using 4-week billing cycles instead of calendar months in order to extract additional revenue from their subscriber bases.
Four-week (or 28-day) billing cycles enable publishers to charge subscribers 13 times per year instead of 12, which equates to 8% additional revenue on an annualized basis. It’s an approach currently being used by major news publishers including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Boston Globe, and the Los Angeles Times, among others.
Toolkits examined the 100 largest U.S. publisher sites currently selling digital subscription products on either a 4-week or a monthly basis and found that 34% of those publishers use 4-week billing periods, up from 20% for the same group a year ago.
Subscription teams are under increased pressure to maximize revenues as challenging economic conditions persist and revenue from other channels – such as advertising and commerce – proves more difficult to generate. In that context, revising billing cycles and subscription terms to eke out additional revenue could be viewed as low-hanging fruit.
Also worth noting:
- How subscription publishers are navigating instability. We examined the tactics leading publishers are employing to drive ongoing subscription success despite challenging market conditions. The resulting report, “Weathering the Storm” is available for free.
- Micropayments are coming to Twitter this month, according to Twitter owner Elon Musk. The platform “will allow media publishers to charge users on a per-article basis with one click. This enables users who would not sign up for a monthly subscription to pay a higher per-article price for when they want to read an occasional article,” he tweeted. Musk previously said he wanted to offer customers of its “Blue” subscription service the ability to bypass paywalls on publishers’ sites.
- Google quietly launched new tools enabling web publishers to monetize their web audiences via subscriptions and contributions. The new offering is essentially an extension and repackaging of its existing “Subscribe with Google” technology, but it could enable Google to compete more directly with other subscription monetization tools and subscription-based creator platforms such as Substack.
- The Lenfest Institute’s Charles Jun canceled 22 digital newspaper subscriptions to see what he could learn about publishers’ retention strategies. His key finding: although news organizations talk constantly about building “trust” with their audiences, they frequently undermine it with their own business practices. “In many cases, dealing with their subscription is the only direct interaction [readers] have with a publication, and as a result, outlets should treat their audience members with respect,” he wrote.
- How German news publisher Der Spiegel uses data to predict long-term subscribers.
- Google is sending less traffic to publishers’ sites for “what time is” type queries, opting instead to answer those questions directly in search results pages. That’s a significant issue for publishers who rely on the tactic to generate a meaningful portion of their traffic.
- Some publishers say they’re spending less on Twitter advertising since Elon Musk took ownership of the platform.
- The U.K. Government formally introduced laws intended to force technology giants to pay news publishers for their content. The Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill aims to boost competition in digital markets and provide new online protections for consumers.
- Publishers are reducing the frequency of their print products in order to cut costs, but publishers should consider the potential effects of such changes on their brands, audiences, and revenues.
- Vice News is “streamlining” its operations, resulting in job cuts across its global news team.