- Publishers increasingly see the value of audience research for understanding their audiences’ needs and informing the development of new subscription products and features.
- Media observers continue to express concern that paywalled content marginalizes less-affluent audiences, but targeting affluent audiences isn’t a new strategy for publishers.
Publishers increasingly see the value of audience research
As their approaches to the development of subscription products and features become more sophisticated, publishers are realizing the increasing importance of robust audience research for helping them better understand their audiences’ needs and interests.
For many publishers, their early forays into subscription products involved offering a smorgasbord of features and benefits in the hope that something might resonate enough to prompt purchases (more on that below). But as their subscription efforts mature, publishers are now increasingly shunning the trial-and-error approach in favor of actually asking their audiences what they want and need. As we’ve covered previously, analyzing behavioral data is essential for any publisher, but what subscribers actually value can’t be understood from their actions alone. As a result, qualitative research is essential for the intelligent development of new features and products, and for uncovering new opportunities to provide value.
The Atlantic published a piece detailing its own approach to audience research back in 2020, and this week it shared some conclusions it’s reached based on audience surveys and interviews it conducted over the past two years. The Atlantic found that readers and listeners gravitate to its content for five key reasons: For clarity and context, to discover new ideas, to have their assumptions challenged, to help them take a break, and to find new writers “at the top of their craft.”
Any publisher hoping to grow subscriber numbers and engagement should now be thinking about the role that audience research should play in the development of their products and features. As competition for subscriber dollars heats up, assuming or guessing what audiences want isn’t going to cut it any more. Publishers that are serious about building sustainable long-term subscription businesses will benefit from paying closer attention to their audiences’ motivations and needs.
Catering to affluent audiences isn’t just about selling subscriptions
As more news goes behind paywalls, media observers continue to question whether subscription-funded publishers cater too much to rich, highly educated audiences and leave other readers behind. The discussion continued this week as various outlets examined the issue, including an Insider piece titled “Media Leaders Worry About Subscription Wealth Gap” that happened to require a subscription to access.)
The prospect of more paywalled news leading to the marginalization of some audiences is a legitimate concern, and access to high-quality reporting and journalism should by no means be a privilege reserved for the wealthy.
But it’s also worth noting that publishers catering to affluent audiences is not a new phenomenon. Many publishers have for decades tailored their content and its presentation in order to attract the attention of advertisers. As publishers’ business models change and evolve, marginalization of audiences will continue to manifest in different ways. But regardless of publishers’ business models, some audiences will continue to be underserved as publishers focus on readers who can help them generate the most revenue – be it through subscriptions, advertising, commerce, or any other revenue stream.
Other notable Reads:
- The major social media companies are eager to power subscription functionality for publishers and creators who use their platforms. Meta announced the rollout of subscription tools on Instagram this week, and similar functionality is expected to follow on TikTok soon.
- LA Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong says he believes the news publisher can double its paying subscriber base every year for the next 3 years to reach over 4 million paying subscribers by 2025. A growing list of regional news publishers is now citing The New York Times’ success as evidence that they can achieve subscription businesses of similar sizes, but it remains to be seen if there’s space in the market for other publishers to realistically compete as NYT continues to diversify its offerings beyond straight news to offer a more compelling package.
- Subscription technology provider Piano put together a short case study on how The Salt Lake Tribune, its client, is attempting to convert password sharing users to group subscribers. We recently published our own guide detailing strategies and tactics for how publishers can limit password sharing activity and turn it to their advantage.
- As we’ve covered previously, subscription publishers are increasingly questioning whether or not it’s worth their time and effort to continue supporting Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages format. Publisher Search Engine Land made the decision to switch off AMP support on its site two months ago, and said last week it’s seen nothing so far to make it reconsider the move.
- My former Digiday colleague Brian Morrissey unpacked the recent trend of publishers being more vocal about their targeting of affluent readers or “the rich niche.”
For more practical guidance on building sustainable subscription and membership products and businesses, see the Subscription Publishing Toolkit.