What Subscription Fatigue?! New Report Shows Subscription Increase for Newspapers

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New data from the Medill Subscription Engagement Index out of Northwestern University appears to defy what many had accepted about the current state of newspapers and their readers.

Subscriptions, the Index found, are continuing to rise in large, medium, and small newspapers, at a time when the general assumption surely had inflation concerns and reader behaviors creating the opposite effect.

“The headline is that the bottom has not fallen out,” says Ed Malthouse, the Research Director for the Medill IMC Spiegel Research Center at Northwestern University’s Medill School, in a research article on the university’s Local News Initiative website.

The Index collected data from more than 100 (anonymous) news organizations, and across all three size-categories, since its launch last year. From September 2021 to August 2022, 6 of the 8 large metropolitan dailies surveyed saw “sizeable increases” in subscriptions, while one showed a small increase. Publishers of medium- and smaller-sizes also saw increases. “Meanwhile,” the article reports, “reader regularity, the frequency with which readers go online to view news, held steady at all three tiers.”

These results, much like the results of the recent State of Digital and Content Marketing report, appear to show renewed trust in newspapers and traditional media during turbulent times. The article highlights the increasing digital subscription numbers for papers such as the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Boston Globe, and Los Angeles Times, as well as the proactive efforts to keep the trend going, from digital marketing to analyzing other subscription-model businesses.

Ken Herts, the chief operating officer for the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, says there’s still room to grow, pointing to a Reuters study that found that “20 percent” of people are willing to pay for news, even as subscriptions themselves are less than one percent for many publications. “With good marketing,” he says in the article, “publishers should be able to get up to 2 percent subscribing and then they will have a very good business.

To continue the successful pivot from the ad-revenue business model to a reader-revenue one, publishers should not “be letting down their guard,” says Malthouse.

“It’s a dangerous thing to assume the line would keep going this way,” Malthouse says. “The only reason it would is if publishers are providing value to their readers. They need to provide differentiated and curated content because users are pressed for time. If I’m a subscriber and you fill the page with commoditized content or beat me to death with ads, I will start taking the credit card away.”

To read more about the Medill Subscriber Engagement Index and its recent results, visit Local News Initiative.


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