This week in Subscription Publishing:
- Twitter is now offering ad-free experiences when tapping through to a range of publisher sites with a new paid product it’s calling “Blue”. We expect Twitter to offer Blue subscribers the ability to bypass paywalls on some publisher sites soon.
- Prominent newsletter writers are now rejoining media companies at a healthy clip, but the logistics of a newsletter exit aren’t necessarily simple.
- Aggressive introductory discounts can often backfire in the long run, but Boston Globe says its $1 for six months promotion has paid dividends.
- Practical tactics for limiting password sharing and recovering lost subscribers and revenue.
Will Twitter Blue help readers bypass paywalls?
Twitter launched its paid subscription service “Blue” in the U.S. last week, which offers the ability to view content from a network of publisher sites without advertising, in addition to other features. (Twitter acquired Scroll earlier this year to help power the initiative.)
It hasn’t announced anything yet, but a logical next step is for Twitter to experiment with offering Blue subscribers the ability to bypass partner publishers’ paywalls. Twitter might compensate publishers either with direct payment, or potentially with information from users such as email addresses.
Such an initiative might prove attractive to some publishers, depending on a range of variables including the economics, and the control that’s afforded to publishers over which (and how much) content is offered to Blue subscribers. The implementation could, in theory, look similar to the first-click-free policy operated by Google prior to 2017. The difference now is subscription publishers are less likely to agree to offer paywalled content for free without hard evidence it’s translating directly to meaningful revenue and/or data.
Twitter isn’t the only platform making steps towards offering paying subscribers the ability to bypass publisher paywalls. LinkedIn is exploring similar features with subscription software paywall provider Piano, in which it invested earlier this year.
The mechanics of newsletter exits
As we noted last week, The Great Rebundling of independent journalists and newsletter writers is now firmly underway, and media companies are actively shopping for acqui-hires to help bolster their own subscription offerings.
One buyer getting some attention over the past week is Workweek — a new business-centric media company co-founded by former The Hustle President Adam Ryan, among others — which kickstarted its efforts by acquiring Cannabis-focused Substack newsletter Four PM and healthcare newsletter Healthcare Huddle. The company says it will offer creators greater upside than they might get working for other media companies, while also getting access to perks such as healthcare and paid vacation.
As highlighted in a great piece by Vanity Fair this week, however, figuring out the logistics of newsletter exits isn’t always easy. Finding a potential buyer is one hurdle, but manually issuing prorated refunds to subscribers and attempting to migrate potentially-disgruntled readers to other publishers’ products and systems is often messy and complicated.
If nothing else, the independent journalism/newsletter movement of the past couple years has at least helped journalists and creators understand the value of the support and functions offered by media companies — even if people who work in those functions often have a habit of over-valuing their own contributions.
Aggressive subscription discounting pays off for Boston Globe
For many subscription publishers and products, aggressive discounting can be a flawed tactic. Short-term sugar highs in the form of boosted conversions often give way to widespread churn, brand and product perception problems, and difficult conversations about adjusted revenue expectations.
According to the Boston Globe, its aggressive (and widely noted) $1 for six months promotion — which it began running in 2018 — has ultimately proved a success for the publisher. In an interview with Press Gazzette, the Globe’s vice president for consumer revenue, Tom Brown, said the tactic did boost conversions but that it sees little evidence those trial users behave significantly differently to other cohorts.
Brown also said the Globe has — so far — seen little evidence that subscribers acquired during the pandemic are more likely to churn than those acquired before.
Other noteworthy reads:
- Instagram will soon offer the ability for its users to sell access to subscriber-only content, according to TechCrunch.
- Plagiarized content has flourished across Facebook for years, much to the chagrin of publishers and copyright owners. The tech giant is well-aware of the problem, and has done little to crack down on it despite technically having policies that prohibit it, WSJ reports.
- Pandemic-led changes to the nature of newsrooms look to be permanent, according to a new Changing Newsrooms report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.
For more practical guidance on building sustainable subscription and membership products and businesses, see the Subscription Publishing Toolkit.