Digital Subs Are Growing, But Publishers Must Still Move Consumers Through The Funnel

Digital subscriptions are catching up with print. But it is not yet clear that they can relieve the financial burdens on publishers. 

Take the Dallas Morning News, which now has 64,172 digital subscribers, up 12.4% over 2021.

 A recent article in the paper said, “Revenue from digital-only subscribers rose by $1 million, but was largely offset by a $900,000 decline in print subscription revenue.” 

In contrast, the New York Times added 180,000 digital-only subscribers during Q3, bringing its total subscriptions to 9.33 million. And the revenue that resulted offset the higher operating costs caused by its purchase of the Athletic, the paper reports. But it, too, faces challenges.  

“Subscription revenues from digital-only products jumped 22.8% to $243.9 million,” Zacks investment Research reports about the Times. “However, print subscription revenues fell 3.6% to $138.8 million due to lower domestic home delivery revenues that declined 3.3%.” 



Despite this shift, digital accounts for only 16.19% of overall subscriptions, according to Print to Digital, a study by FIPP, quoting Mather Economics’ latest Subscription Benchmarking Report.  

However, digital produces 66.8% of new starts, while print produces only 33.2%.  

In addition, print subscriptions now represent approximately 55.9% of the total paid subscriptions, while digital accounts for 44.1%.  

This is happening as publishers face added churn—53% of consumers have cancelled at least one subscription, according to a study by Toolkits and National Research Group. And they must deal with intense competition for subscribers both in and out of their field.

“Your competition now really is the 17 other household subscriptions – the clothing subscriptions, the food subscriptions, the television and news subscriptions,” said Laurie Truitt, Vice President, Global Consumer Growth at Time, in a recent webinar produced by FIPP.

That is certainly true. A new study by Bango shows that consumers are so overwhelmed by the sheer number of their subscriptions that 78% want a central platform for managing them. 

That study also found that: 

  • 34% of consumers pay for a digital subscription that they never use
  • 45% find it hard to keep track of how they signed up for subscriptions
  • 35% have no idea how much they’re spending on subscriptions.

Truit continued, “(Your content) really needs to be a priority in people’s lives and how do you do that? You do that through engagement, value prop and really hoping that you hit that moment with them when they see you as a valuable asset to their monthly subscription.”

Advising publishers to “swap gut feel for science,” the new study lists four stages of the audience funnel, along with the metrics that should be used to gauge success: 


% Users by referral (search, direct)


  • % known users 
  • % returning users 
  • Visits per user 


  • Paywall hit rate
  • Paywall conversion rates
  • Conversions per 1M users


  • Digital-only churn rate 
  • Digital-only subscriber price
  • % Digital-only subscribers 

“The old sales/marketing/purchase funnel remains a useful visual today. It simultaneously shows the pathway to conversion, while reminding us that while the traditional customer journey from brand awareness to transaction is made, our audience may become smaller, but also more valuable.” 


Next story loading loading..