Lessons Learned from INMA Subscription Summit 2021

The International News Media Association (INMA) recently held its annual Subscription Summit and AdvantageCS’s Philippe van Mastrigt attended, as did a good number of Advantage clients. INMA’s mission is to provide its members with ideas to grow the audience, revenue and brand of news media companies, and the Subscription Summit is one of their numerous events held throughout the year all over the world.

Here are some takeaways from the Summit. Paywalls were a popular topic and the points made included:

  • A paywall is not really a technology project. It’s about realigning the whole company to readers. It’s how you overcome your decision inertia, technology debt and concerns of staff. It’s a transformation project and a reinvention opportunity. 
  • Knowing customers is key. We repeatedly heard that sign walls should have preceded paywalls. Analytics could make us more effective. Some publishers got so confident in data and learning machines, they started giving up decision-making to algorithms. 
  • Your news brand is a prime lever to engage audiences and make them see the value of your journalism and subscription. The news agenda drives subscriptions, we heard, but the strength of your brand drives the amount. 
  • New operating models emerge: Cross-functional teams launch and optimize paywalls, funnels, campaigns, and features. Growth comes from incremental improvements: relentless experimentation and iteration. Labor-intensive tasks, such as curating pages or social media accounts, can be automated and more efficient. 
  • Agenda for 2021: As paywalls mature, publishers go after new segments, for example, light readers or tech enthusiasts. They invest in better user experience: fast-loading sites, new storytelling formats, frictionless check-out. They seek ways to activate and wake up new subscribers: we learned a scary benchmark that 72% fall “asleep” within three months after signing up. The sleepers are first to churn. 
  • Fast-growing Creators Economy ecosystem unbundles newsrooms and poses new-old dilemmas: whether to build business with individual journalists-brands or on journalists. What causes the biggest talents to leave newsrooms? What might make them stay? Who owns the relationships with readers that they build? 

The Summit also challenged some news industry myths, such as:

  • MYTH: People won’t pay as much for digital as for print: Tom Brown’s Boston Globe and Astrid Hald Jørgensen’s Politiken challenged this common wisdom, priced above the competition, and found success. Lesson: to convince people you’re worth the premium, first start believing it yourself. 
  • MYTH: People in the West may pay for news, but not elsewhere: Lynn D’Cruz of Malaysiakini discovered that Malaysians were ready to support bold journalism when the offer was clear and check-out frictionless. Trust is as hard a currency as money: last Friday, readers mobilized to bail the site out when it got into trouble with the judiciary! 
  • MYTH: All people know the value of journalism and legacy media: Google News Initiative’s Ben Monnie relayed a take-away from GNI Subscription Labs – news publishers ought to reinforce their brand, mission, and value with simple and powerful communication. “Truth,” declared the New York Times’ billboard that Ben referred to. 
  • MYTH: Digital replicas are a thing of the past: Eric Ng’s Singapore Press Holdings stumbled upon a large reader segment that loved the “print experience,” but the print product no longer fit their lifestyle. Solution: a replica app seamlessly integrated with a tablet and sold as a bundle for a 30-month contract. 
  • MYTH: Young people / women / light readers won’t pay for news: Slow down your journalism, wise up, open your newsroom and here you go – Katie Vanneck-Smith’s Tortoise has become the fastest growing U.K. news brand, with 30% members aged under 30 and 65% of them female. 

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