To Grow Subscriptions, Media Companies Need To Expand Beyond Super Fans

As media companies scramble to build out subscription businesses and realize year-over-year growth in their subscribers, they should be looking at casual or infrequent readers, according to new research.

The findings, from the International News Media Association, indicate that light readers represent the strongest growth path for mature subscription businesses in media companies. But that audience segment, described as “picky,” requires additional study, according to the INMA.

The research, released in late September, revealed new patterns in reader revenue during the pandemic. If 2020 was “the year of subscriptions,” then 2021 is “the year of the light readers,” the report states.

The period of the pandemic also saw the emergence of new product and marketing tactics to attract light readers and new insights into casual buyers across consumer industries. It describes a resizing of the subscription opportunity ahead.

By the end of last year, according to the report, publishers had for the most part successfully acquired and retained readers who were brand-loyal and fans, enhanced by people looking to navigate the pandemic. While these remain priority readers, the new growth path has shifted to light readers who require longer trials and habituation development.

“The focus on light readers is one of the priorities of the Readers First Initiative, now in its third year,” said INMA CEO Earl J. Wilkinson. “This meticulously researched report brings together the beginnings of a playbook for publishers seeking the next growth path for digital subscriptions. Light readers represent a segment not well understood by news-hungry publishers and editors who often are more like a brand’s super fans.”

The Readers First Initiative aims to surface global best practices in the art and science behind digital subscriptions. The initiative produces newsletters, Slack channel interactions, video meet-ups, reports, Webinars, workshops, and one-on-one Ask Me Anything sessions for INMA members worldwide.

Among the 46-page report’s key takeaways are:

  • Content that engages light readers also engages heavy readers — but not the other way around.
  • Engaging new subscribers within the first 100 days has a direct correlation with retaining them.
  • Casual readers need to have a window to content. “Hop-on, hop-off” readers must be embraced.
  • Engagement loops work better than the traditional funnel.

The INMA consists of nearly 19,000 members at more than 900 news-media companies in 76 countries, representing tens of thousands of news brands. “Light Readers: Digital Subscriptions’ Next Growth Path” is available for free to INMA members and may be purchased by nonmembers.


2 comments about "To Grow Subscriptions, Media Companies Need To Expand Beyond Super Fans".
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  1. PJ Lehrer from NYU, October 13, 2021 at 2:56 p.m.

    The easiest sale has always been to get someone who is already using your service to use it more often.  Some things never change.

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, October 13, 2021 at 7:29 p.m.

    PJ, the same thing is true for much  of advertising. Most ads are best received by people who already use the advertised brand and many stock up after seeing their favorite brands' ad messages.

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