Commentary

How Publishers Can Retain Subscribers After Pandemic Ends

Publishers have seen a surge in web traffic and paid subscriptions among homebound readers during the coronavirus pandemic. With lockdowns gradually ending in the next few months, a key strategy will be to retain those subscribers by reminding them why they signed up in the first place.

New subscriptions jumped as much as 97% in late March from the pre-pandemic days among U.S. publishers that use business platform Piano, though those gains have faded somewhat in recent weeks. They're still up by more than 40% since the first two months of the year, presenting publishers with an opportunity to expand their readership and partly replace lost ad revenue.

Churn rates have been flat in the U.S., which is actually a positive sign, considering the big surge in new subscriptions. The churn rate tends to be highest during the first couple of months, making the next few months even more critical to retaining new readers.

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Piano found that non-trial subscriptions have a higher retention rate than trials, while paid trailers have greater retention than a free sample period. Free trials plunged to 11% from 21% of all monthly subscriptions from January to April, while paid trials moved in the opposite direction.

Quality editorial is helping to boost retention, with subscribers generating 41% more pageviews than they did in the pre-pandemic period, according to Piano.

The company recommends that publishers help readers form a habit of checking in with frequently updated newsletters, blogs and columns -- and use features like reading lists and recipe boxes to give people a reason to come back.

By expanding their readership and boosting loyalty, publishers can set the stage for a recovery in media spending by demonstrating they have a committed and engaged readership that's more likely to see advertising and respond to offers. Publishers also provide a brand-safe alternative to the relentless misinformation and inflammatory content pervasive on social media and content-sharing sites.

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