The local news subscription business is showing at least a slight pulse thanks to digital, according to the Medill Subscriber Engagement Index.
Six out of eight of the large metropolitan dailies surveyed showed large increases in subscriptions from September 2021 through August 2022
For instance, The Philadelphia Inquirer is headed toward 70,000 digital subscriptions , versus its 61,000 print subscribers, Susan Chandler reports in the Northwestern/Medill Local News Initiative.
“The same trend is apparent at the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune,” Chandler writes. “The Boston Globe has reached 240,000 digital subscriptions, about 70 percent of which are full price, roughly $28 a month.”
This is happening at a time when page views and unique visitors have fallen by 20% at local newspaper sites in 2022, Chandler reports, sourcing Poynter.
“Penetration of potential subscribers is still very low and there’s a lot of headroom for growth,” says Ken Herts, Chief Operating Officer of the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, a nonprofit that owns a stake in the Philadelphia Inquirer, according to Chandler.
Herts adds, “A Reuters study found that about 20 percent of people are willing to pay for news but you have subscriptions in the half to one percent range at many publications.” But Herts notes that with “good marketing, publishers should be able to get up to 2% subscribing and then they will have a very good business.”
Some publishers have recruited digital marketing professionals to boost their subscription acquisition efforts, and gleaning what they can from subscription-based businesses like Dollar Shave Club, Chandler continues.
“The headline is that the bottom has not fallen out, says Ed Malthouse, the Erastus Otis Haven Professor and Research Director for the Medill IMC Spiegel Research Center at Northwestern University’s Medill School.