The New York Times reports that while its own base of print subscribers is holding fairly steady with only slight declines year over year, its digital subscriber base grew by 157,000 in the final quarter of 2017. As the first publication with over a million digital-only subscribers, the Times is committed to serving print subscribers for as long as it can, but sees the likelihood of a digital-only future within a decade.
Although digital may be the way forward for the majority of publishers, the value of print should not be underestimated or overlooked. Subscriber profiles vary greatly, even within a single publication, and they are all seeking different experiences based on who they are, where they are and what devices they use throughout the day. With more information than ever before about who audiences are and how they consume media, publishers should be considering every option to keep their subscribers engaged with personalised bundled offerings. Technology not only makes it easier for us to understand what subscribers want, it also makes it easier for us to deliver those experiences.
Unsurprisingly, print-first and digital-first subscribers engage with content differently, and they have different expectations. Many print-first subscribers are older, and generally, they’ve subscribed to a publication for a few years. Print-first subscribers do engage with digital, and they also share content even more than digital subscribers do. That said, the digital-first subscriber still has an interest in print. This is the reason several digital publishers have introduced print magazines in recent years, and some nascent publishers have introduced new, print-first publications into the world in small batches. Even Facebook recently launched a print magazine called Grow.
Publishers are– wisely – taking a customer-centric approach to engage new subscribers and deepen their relationship with existing ones. Many are taking advantage of the data they have and realising that they don’t need to choose between print and digital. Newer publishing platforms consolidate data and delivery systems, making it easier to offer subscribers any combination of media and even mix in other offerings, if they choose. If a subscriber wants a digital subscription to their daily newspaper, but still wants the actual paper delivered on Sundays, that’s easy enough to manage.
Many publishers are getting creative with their offerings. Apart from offering paid apps for its famed crossword puzzle and other features, The New York Times offers a kids-only print subscription, aimed at getting the little ones away from the screen. The Guardian offers a printed weekly digest to reduce the paper overload of daily delivery – while still offering the satisfaction and ease of reading a physical paper. And the Financial Times offers a mega-bundle – all print and digital content for one flat price. Still other publishers are enabling custom bundles: subscribers can choose video, podcasts and special content, such as sports or arts highlights to create the subscription they want. The key is understanding how customers want to engage with the publication, and then making it as simple as possible to do so.
There may be a temptation to shift to all-digital today, but the fact is that for most publications, print not only represents the lion’s share of revenue, it also represents the most loyal and engaged subscribers. Even if the future is digital, it’s still years off. Norwegian publisher Amedia made the realisation that print still mattered very much to their audience of local readers. When asked about the importance of print to the company’s business, the company’s EVP responded, “Print is vital for us. It will continue to be vital for us for years and years.” Amedia operates on an integrated platform, so they can easily bundle print and digital subscriptions, or add digital to print-only subscriptions. “We’re putting up a value proposition: If you want the news delivered to your door every single morning, you can get it. If you don’t want that, you don’t have to. Every single print subscriber is also a digital subscriber, so they are getting the digital value and access to all the digital channels that we use, because we radically simplified our product pricing points and the products we offer.”
The point here is that it needs to be about the customer. With many loyal readers still reliant on print, it is still “vital” in the world of publishing. There is a growing need to transition print readers to digital, but it doesn’t need to be a rush – and publishers certainly shouldn’t risk alienating print-first subscribers. Print isn’t going away tomorrow, and since your longest-standing subscribers probably still love it, why not make it easy for them to keep receiving magazines and newspapers at their door?
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